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

MUNICH — 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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