APPEARANCE MATTER IN THE LABOUR MARKET?
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.
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 persons 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."
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.
US results, the economic effects of looks appear as strong
for men as for women.
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.
are widespread but their importance varies between occupations.
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).
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
affects marriage prospects
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
Attractive women are more likely to be married (+4%), while
unattractive men are less likely to be married (-9%).
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."
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.
For further information, a copy of the full research article
or to arrange an interview please contact Barry Harper (details
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