Beautiful people earn more money than regular folks. We've known this for a long time and it's been widely reported on. But research from Satoshi Kanazawa and Mary C. Still found that it's not the beautiful people who have an advantage when it comes to pay: It's the ugly people. Yes, there is no beautiful premium, but there is an ugly premium.

Kanazawa and Still questioned the past findings about the beautiful people because of flaws they saw in the research. They write:

Past findings of beauty premium and ugliness penalty may possibly be due to the fact that: 1) "very unattractive" and "unattractive" categories are usually collapsed into "below average" category; and 2) health, intelligence (as opposed to education) and Big Five personality factors are not controlled. It appears that more beautiful workers earn more, not because they are beautiful, but because they are healthier, more intelligent, and have better (more Conscientious and​ Extraverted, and less Neurotic) personality.

The previous research gave three possible reasons for the beauty premium: Discrimination (we naturally prefer beautiful people and so hire, pay and promote based on their good looks), Occupational Self-selection (beautiful people choose higher paying job), and Individual Differences (beautiful people don't only differ in their looks but in other areas. Kanazawa and Still found it was those other characteristics that made the big difference, not physical appearance.

So, their research controlled for those "other" characteristics and found that the people with the real earnings premium are ugly people (as defined by balanced facial characteristics) out earned everyone else.

Once health, intelligence, and Big Five personality factors (along with other correlates of physical attractiveness) were controlled in a multiple regression model, what little evidence existed for the beauty premium disappeared completely. Healthier and more intelligent respondents, and those with more Conscientious, more Extraverted, and less Neurotic personality traits earned significantly more than others."

Who comes out on top when all this controlled? The ugly people. This is good news for all of us. We may not be ugly but we can control a lot of the things that influence earnings. We can work on our health (sometimes easier said than done), we can work on becoming more conscientious, more extroverted, and less neurotic. Or at least we can give the outward appearance of being so.

But, next time you get a big raise, go take a look in the mirror and thank your lucky stars you aren't one of the beautiful people.

Published on: Feb 22, 2017