Laws of attraction: beautiful people are more successful

Turns out, a pretty face is all you need to get ahead in life.

Meryl D'Souza July 11, 2016

You’re getting in to work on time, staying back late, willing to take on more responsibility and even doing someone else’s job for them, yet you’re somehow still lagging behind the new guy who looks like he couldn’t make it as a model so he chose to disrupt your professional life.

Be honest, you have at some point suspected that attractive people get the sweeter deal in life. Turns out, you were right. Whether it’s romantically or professionally, the beautiful are more satisfied with their lives, but don’t take our word for it science says so.

According to Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, written by Daniel Hamermesh, an economist at the University of Texas in Austin, attractive people are usually hired sooner, get promotions quicker and earn up to four per cent more than their colleagues who are less aesthetically pleasing.

Professionally speaking, beautiful people tend to bring in more money for their companies, and are therefore seen as more valuable employees and harder workers, according to an article in Psychology Today by Dario Maestripieri, a professor of comparative human development, evolutionary biology, and neurobiology at the University of Chicago. That’s because people want to interact with beautiful people and spend as much time with them as possible. Maestripieri calls this principle “the pleasure of dealing with good-looking people.”

Daniel Hamermesh, however, doesn’t limit that phenomenon to just good looks. He believes that attractive people tend to have desirable personality traits, like higher self-confidence—likely a direct result of their good looks—that appeal to employers.

A study by Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research from 2005 took on the effects of attractiveness on employer/employee relations. For the experiment, researchers divided participants into ‘worker’ and ‘employer’ categories. The ‘workers’ were assigned a task asking them to solve as many computer maze quizzes as possible within fifteen minutes. ‘Employers’ were then tasked with determining the wages of the ‘workers’ based on their skill in performing the task.

Even though problem-solving should be a task free of any attractiveness bias, the group of ‘employers’ constantly expected good-looking workers to perform better than their less attractive counterparts.

This effect, dubbed the ‘beauty premium’, is “economically significant” said the researchers, and “comparable to the race and gender gaps in the US labour market”.

It doesn’t just stop with the professional bias for the genetically gifted. Researchers at Rice University, Houston, Texas found that we’re far more trusting of attractive people. However, the beauty premium comes at a cost. The researches also found that if those people do not live up to what was expected of them, the ‘beauty penalty’ is far higher than for those less attractive. 

The privileged life that beautiful people enjoy stems from a cognitive bias known as the Halo effect, a state first described by Edward Thorndike in 1920, that says our perception of someone’s interior attributes often reflects their physical characteristics. To dumb it down: good-looking equals good.

We’ve seen this in practice on our screens. We as a species tend to be hopelessly ignorant but if you pay close attention to the many movies that come our way, you’ll notice that villains tend to be less attractive. Don’t look at the Hollywood blockbusters. Instead, focus on Disney and let the truth sink in. We’re programmed to believe in the Halo effect from the time we’re children. 

It’s not just entertainment even education misleads us. A study carried out by Margaret M. Clifford and Elaine Walster from the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin respectively, confirm that good-looking children receive more attention at school, are considered more trustworthy, and are judged to have higher academic potential.

The problem is that many of these prejudices start to act as self-fulfilling prophecies. Less attractive children start to do less well at school because of the low expectations placed on them: they have less belief in themselves, less confidence, they receive less personal attention from their tutors, and so on. And, as a consequence, the prophecy comes true; they do achieve less.

Yes, the world really needs to get above all this and not judge people by their looks. But evidence suggests that’s going to take centuries. Until the time we decide its time for change, you can flip the script by paying more attention to your grooming rituals and dressing for the job you want.