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22 November 2000

DOES APPEARANCE MATTER IN THE LABOUR MARKET?

We live in an era of equal opportunities - legislation protects employees from discrimination on the basis of disability, sex or race but is there another form of prejudice affecting our career prospects? Studies in North America have suggested that physical appearance - attractiveness, height and weight - affects the jobs we do and the money we earn. Now Barry Harper of the department of economics at London Guildhall University has confirmed their findings in the first large-scale investigation of the issue in the UK.

"We investigated a sample of over 11,000 people aged 33, examining the effects of looks, height and obesity on hourly pay, employment and on a person’s marriage prospects," explains Barry Harper. "Looks were assessed when these individuals were still at school. We find that attractive people earn more than unattractive people; looks affect men as much as they do women; tall men, but not tall women, earn substantially more than their colleagues; those who are short earn less and appearance also has an effect on marriage prospects."

Appearance affects pay

The pay premium for attractiveness is very small, and localised. Unattractive people, however, earn substantially less than their colleagues The penalty for unattractiveness is around -15% for men and
-11% for women. If average male earnings are £20,000 p.a. then an otherwise identical male who is unattractive will earn just £17,000, a penalty of £3,000.

Confirming US results, the economic effects of looks appear as strong for men as for women.

Tall people earn more than short people. This pay gap is 10% for men and 5% women. Only men benefit from being tall. They earn around 5% more than others. Women who are obese are penalised earning 5% less, but obese men are not.

The effects are widespread but their importance varies between occupations.

The effects of appearance are prevalent throughout the British economy, suggesting that they arise from employer prejudice. However, there is some variation between occupations. For men good looks appear to matter in non-professional occupations (+5% pay premium) but not in professional occupations. The benefits of being tall or the costs of being unattractive are only seen in 'white-collar' jobs. For women the penalty for unattractiveness is greatest in clerical/secretarial occupations (-15% penalty).

These results indicate that prejudice may be greater in some jobs than others. Consumer prejudice may be important here making the effects of appearance greater in jobs involving face-to-face contact, especially those that involve selling. Here some aspects of appearance are especially important. Attractive or tall men in sales jobs earn more than other people (+13% and +25% respectively). For women, being tall is also an asset (+15%).

Appearance affects marriage prospects

The findings suggest quite large effects of appearance on the likelihood of being married at age 33.
Tall women and short men are less likely to be married (-5% and -7% respectively).
Obese women are less likely to be married (-7%), but not obese men.
Attractive women are more likely to be married (+4%), while unattractive men are less likely to be married (-9%).

CONCLUSIONS

The results of the study accord with findings for North America. Contrary to popular belief, looks are as important for men as for women. Also, the penalty for plainness far exceeds any premium for beauty. In addition, men and women who are short are penalised while tall men benefit from their size. Barry Harper believes his findings should not be ignored: "Although there is some variation between jobs, the effects of appearance are generally widespread suggesting that they arise from prejudice and in particular, employer discrimination. There is an urgent need for business and government to review their equal opportunities policy to address this issue."

Notes to editors

1. Full details of this research will appear in Harper, B. 'Beauty, Statute and the Labour Market: A British Cohort Study', Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 62, December 2000, pp773-802.
2. The study sample of 11,000 people are members of the National Child Development Study. The NCDS cohort study tracks the lives of 17,733 people born in Britain in the first week of March 1958. They are now 42. They were last interviewed in 1991 when the sample had fallen to 11,407.

Further information
For further information, a copy of the full research article or to arrange an interview please contact Barry Harper (details below).
London Guildhall University does not have an abbreviation. To avoid confusion with other organisations, please use only our full name. Thank you.

Further information:
Barry Harper
Department of Economics
London Guildhall University

Tel: 020 7320 1351
Fax: 020 7320 3007
Email: harper@lgu.ac.uk
Press release issued by:
Stuart Hogarth
Public Relations Officer
London Guildhall University

Tel: 020 7320 3417
Fax: 020 7320 3424
Email: shogarth@lgu.ac.uk
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