Breaking Down The "Beauty Bonus" - Why Attractive People Get Paid More

Good-looking employees, handsome pay
Good-looking employees, handsome pay
Alexander Hagelüken

MUNICH â€" The old proverb that says, "beauty pulls more weight than oxen," is getting some close investigation in the modern job market. The latest study from Germany found that not only do good-looking people have a better chance of finding a job, they also earn as much as 20% more.

This "beauty bonus" appears to be particularly high in Germany, says economist Eva Sierminska, one of the researchers involved. Respondents to a survey Sierminska carried out characterized nearly half of Germany’s top managers and executives in state institutions and the private sector as very good-looking. But the same people ranked only a quarter or workers and farmers as being very good-looking.

Interestingly, the "beauty-bonus" doesn't apply equally to all countries. While it is high in Germany and China, where it can result in up to a 20% wage hike (for women), it is significantly lower in Brazil and the United States, and cannot even be proven to exist in Britain. Sierminska chalks the differences up to varying "job market cultures."

The focus of the study was to determine the fundamental causes of why good looks lead to better wages. One of the answers, apparently, is that employers consider attractive people to be more productive and competent. Sierminska flags this expressively in her paper for the IZA-Institute in Bonn as a cliché, one that ignores the individual qualifications of employees.

Cliché or not, it's something that works in favor of good-looking people. Attractive people are invited to take part in interviews and are called subsequently more often than other candidates. They're also considered to be more socially affable, despite the often proven unpleasantness of beautiful people in day-to-day situations. Lookers, in other words, profit from clichés that do not hold up in real life.

A sales exception

The one case where choosing a good-looking person over other candidates can perhaps be justified is when the position in question requires constant contact with the customer. A good-looking sales assistant or beautician is, after all, more appealing.

But there is another reason why the beautiful crowd earns more: good-looking people tend to be more self-confident, expect greater things from themselves, and thus seek better paying jobs. A study of legal careers in the U.S. demonstrated that good-looking state employees switch to the better paid private sector on a higher-than-average rate.

The "beauty-effect" comes into play at quite an early stage. Teachers, for example, tend to favor good-looking students who then take part in social and sporting activities that help them develop qualifications such as team spirit and self-confidence.

"This is laying the foundation for future advantages in the job market," says Sierminska.

What chance then do the rest of us have? Sierminska has a few concrete suggestions for how to level the playing field. First, she thinks job applications shouldn't include photos. Employers ought to decide who they want to invite for an interview based on qualifications, not physical appearance. Second, Sierminska suggests that companies give less-attractive employees a concrete boost by training them, for example, in how to best interact with their customers who expect, and pay, for their service providers to make the transaction pleasant.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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