November 11, 1997 in Features

What Is Beauty’s Role In Business?

David Tarrant The Dallas Morning News

Beauty is its own reward - and its employer’s, too.

Attractive people make more money for their companies than their homelier colleagues, according to a recent study dubbed “Beauty and Business Success,” by economists Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas at Austin and Jeff Biddle of the University of Michigan.

But the authors caution against overreacting to the data.

“If the choice is between getting plastic surgery or going to college, by all means go to college,” Biddle said. “A whole lot of things contribute to productivity, of which attractiveness is only one part.”

The two economists have spent many years researching the relationship between pretty faces and the labor market. A previous study, published four years ago by the two economists, found that attractive people tend to earn 5 percent more than those with average looks.

“The question that arises is: Why does this happen?” Biddle asked. “One possibility is discrimination against unattractive people. Another possibility is that attractive people are worth more to employers.”

One way to find out if better-looking workers earned their extra pay was to measure whether firms with more attractive workers did better than similar firms with fewer good-looking workers.

So the researchers studied 289 Dutch advertising agencies, gathering 1,282 black-and-white photos of management teams for each agency - the people most responsible for running the agency and dealing with clients and customers.

Six-member panels of mixed age and gender rated each photograph on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 1 was homely, 3 was average and 5 was strikingly handsome or beautiful).

While beauty is often considered to be in the eye of the beholder, there was general agreement among the raters as to who was attractive and who wasn’t.

“We found that in most cases, firms with more attractive boards had higher revenues,” Biddle said. The study also provided evidence that suggests the value of attractive employees exceeds the extra pay they receive.

The study doesn’t state why firms with more attractive people at the top did better. But customer interaction probably plays a major role, Biddle said.

That’s true in the service industry as well, he said.

In certain businesses, such as high-end clothing stores and fancy restaurants, customers might prefer attractive employees. “You probably want to be waited on by someone who is attractive,” and for the owner, a beautiful employee helps “to move more product,” he said.

“By hiring attractive wait-staff, you’re gaining happier customers and that would be good for the employer.”

The Dallas area’s J.C. Penney Co. said it values personality, appearance and grooming over mere good looks. “Just to look separately at how attractive they are? That would not be our No. 1 criteria,” said Penney’s spokesman Duncan Muir.

Attractive people might also bring other qualities to work that benefit their employer, Biddle said.

“Attractive people are treated better from the word ‘go.’ Attractive babies are treated better than unattractive babies. They become a little more confident, assertive. By the time an attractive person reaches the work-force stage, they may have more attractive skills - leadership skills, for example.”

All is not lost for those lacking in facial symmetry and impressive bone structure. Biddle acknowledges that more and more business is conducted over the phone, where looks don’t matter.

But that does raise another question: Do people with beautiful voices perform better than those with average-sounding voices?

Stay tuned.


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