Beauty matters. Plainness hurts.
January 6, 2013 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Unpacking the Beauty Premium, Borland J & Leigh A, unpub., 2013.
The first Australian study of the financial return to physical attractiveness finds its worth an astounding $32,150 in annual salary, with men of above average looks typically commanding $81,750 compared to $49,600 for men with below-average looks.
Men with below-average looks were 15 per cent less likely than normal to be employed and were typically employed for a 9 per cent lower wage. They were also less likely to be married and less likely to married to a woman of high income.
posted by wilful (64 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Andrew Leigh also happens to be an ALP member of Federal Parliament.
posted by wilful at 2:39 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've also noticed a correlate to this. Men who became markedly, but not horrifically, ugly early in life (facial scars, balding, clear skin disease) seem to have an additional drive to compensate for this, whether consciously or not.

If not sunken outright by the depression and self exile, they seem to become drawn to boring, low status jobs that compensate well via financial means or through various forms of status & power.

I see it as sort of an early life intervention on the harsh reality of the world. I call it the Animal House effect after the dean's remarks to John Belushi's character:

"Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 2:47 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


correlation and causation are not the same etc. etc.
posted by anewnadir at 2:48 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


they seem to become drawn to boring, low status jobs that compensate well [...] through various forms of status & power.

Come again?
posted by indubitable at 3:06 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Interesting, Ok Trends seemed to show fairly convincingly that Women do not rate men on a linear scale (at least when considering dating) but on a "U-shaped" model where most men were either well below or above average (Wheras men use a more linear scale). So it would be interesting to see if they controlled for rater gender in their study to see whether a similar effect is seen when you are just rating for a random survey.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 3:10 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, having some first- and second-hand experiences at various steps of the economic scale, I've seen that:
1. "the clothes make the man" is not a well-known adage for nothing, but
2. relative poverty is less visible from above, and people asdume that that other person over there has no sense of style / doesn't know how to dress properly for the social or job situation at hand / isn't serious enough about it to conform to appearance-related expectations; and don't consider that maybe those are the nicest clothes and haircut the person can afford and they would present themselves much better if they could, or the role of childhood nutrition, etc. It's amazing how different someone can look with the application of a bit of disposable income.

But I will go rtfa now:-P
posted by eviemath at 3:10 PM on January 6, 2013 [8 favorites]



correlation and causation are not the same etc. etc.

That's a very trite dismissal that is essentially wrong. While correlation DOES NOT PROVE causation, it does provide a bloody good idea of where to look. Unless you've got a better hypothesis, such as that people from lower socio-economic classes are uglier (which sounds dodgy (and could be the same hypothesis, just time-shifted)), it remains the best hypothesis.
posted by wilful at 3:11 PM on January 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


Free nose jobs for everybody!
posted by Nomyte at 3:19 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


wilful, I interpreted anewnadir's comment to say that it's possible that lack of disposable income limits a person's ability to meet random socially constructed beauty standards, rather than that people who are intrinsically ugly no matter how well you dress them up and cut their hair make less money because of that.
posted by eviemath at 3:20 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


anewnadir: “correlation and causation are not the same etc. etc.”

Correlation on some level is the only way human beings have to establish causation. "Correlation does not imply causation" is a worthy watchword to prevent us from reaching hasty judgments; it is absolutely not a reason to dismiss all judgments.
posted by koeselitz at 3:23 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unless you've got a better hypothesis, such as that people from lower socio-economic classes are uglier (which sounds dodgy (and could be the same hypothesis, just time-shifted)), it remains the best hypothesis.

Nah, I totally disagree. Poverty can make people "ugly" rather than the other way around - for example:

-Inadequate access to dental care can lead to crooked/stained/rotten/missing teeth, abcesses, etc.
-Less money for healthful food/less time to prepare it can lead to more obesity.
-Less time for recreation/to get out in the sun/to go to the gym + more time with cheap forms of entertainment like TV=> maybe less likely to look physically fit.
-Higher rates of alcohol/drug/cigarette use affect appearance.
-Less money for expensive haircuts, good quality clothes => less polished appearance.

There's a lot of room here for wondering what is correlation vs. what is causation.
posted by cairdeas at 3:25 PM on January 6, 2013 [25 favorites]


But what of Nucky Thompson?
posted by shakespeherian at 3:27 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


correlation and causation are not the same etc. etc.

Indeed - I'm short, oily, and beginning to bald, but much better compensated* than the ugly dudes in this study.

And domestic-partnered! Though also American, so maybe we're easier on the ugly.
posted by ryanshepard at 3:28 PM on January 6, 2013


boring, low status jobs that compensate well via financial means or through various forms of status & power

Can you point me to one of these? I'm ugly enough.
posted by DarkForest at 3:30 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Of course, as we all read in the article, it says that they used photographs to provide an independent degree of proof of beauty, inter-rater correlations are known to be high, and that there is a general proof that beauty matters, within professions and in many other examples.
posted by wilful at 3:31 PM on January 6, 2013


There are plenty of good paying jobs for ugly people. Heck, I paid one to read this to me because I couldn't be bothered to read it myself.
posted by found missing at 3:56 PM on January 6, 2013


"1. "the clothes make the man" is not a well-known adage for nothing, but
2. relative poverty is less visible from above, and people asdume that that other person over there has no sense of style / doesn't know how to dress properly for the social or job situation at hand / isn't serious enough about it to conform to appearance-related expectations"


Although I agree with your basic premise, I can tell you that I can outfit myself in some nice wool slacks, a good cotton dress shirt, a wool overcoat, and good leather shoes for less than it costs to buy a cheap polyester new suit, a new cotton blend shirt, and some new fake leather shoes. Disposable income makes it easier to dress nicely, but if you have the knowledge and desire to dress nicely, it can be done for less than it costs to dress poorly. Much less.

The truth is that in America, style is an artifact of cultural upbringing, and it's hard to fake being raised upper-middleclass even when you have the money to do so because the money isn't a substitute for the style.
posted by 517 at 3:56 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


It could also be that appearance has a positive correlation with self discipline and social skills and some kind of ambition, which also have a positive correlation with career success.
posted by OnceUponATime at 4:01 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Although I agree with your basic premise, I can tell you that I can outfit myself in some nice wool slacks, a good cotton dress shirt, a wool overcoat, and good leather shoes for less than it costs to buy a cheap polyester new suit, a new cotton blend shirt, and some new fake leather shoes.

Maybe this depends on where you are living? Not the case, for example, in most rural areas I've lived in. I could see it happening somewhere with good second-hand/thrift stores though, like NYC or San Francisco. Regardless, there is the issue of tailoring/finding something that is sized and cut to best effect.

It also depends on the people you need to impress. Style standards vary around the country and in different groups of people; with greater emphasis placed on having the latest, newest fashion in some instances, or emphasis on classic (eg. more conservative, but less change year-to-year) style in other instances.
posted by eviemath at 4:03 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


It could also be that appearance has a positive correlation with self discipline and social skills and some kind of ambition, which also have a positive correlation with career success.

All other things being equal, I can see that a correlation between attentiveness and conformity with (sometimes arbitrary) beauty standards and attentiveness and conformity with (sometimes arbitrary) other work performance standards necessary for career success seems entirely plausible.

That all other things being equal caveat is a big one though.
posted by eviemath at 4:08 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The truth is that in America, style is an artifact of cultural upbringing, and it's hard to fake being raised upper-middleclass even when you have the money to do so because the money isn't a substitute for the style.

This is bugging me more the more I think about it, too. I almost completely disagree. One can in fact go to design school and learn this sort of stuff.

On the more anecdotal level, it is definitely not my style that outs me as coming from a working class background nowadays, in the instances when I cannot pass for upper middle class. Admittedly I have had much opportunity to observe the styles of the upper middle class; lacking any education about or contact with different socioeconomic classes would certainly hinder one's ability to mimic the prevalent styles.
posted by eviemath at 4:21 PM on January 6, 2013


"One can in fact go to design school and learn this sort of stuff."

I would say that it can be learned later in life, but probably not by intentionally studying it at fashion school. The thing is, most people develop a level of comfort with a certain style, and revert back to it when they aren't thinking about it. It's unconscious, like an accent, it's just taste, and there's no real reason to go about being uncomfortable in a different style just because a different social class finds it more comfortable.

Please note I'm not saying one style is better than another.
posted by 517 at 4:35 PM on January 6, 2013


it's hard to fake being raised upper-middleclass even when you have the money to do so

I almost completely disagree. One can in fact go to design school and learn this sort of stuff.

I suspect you may have just identified a good way of describing things that, like engineering or reading Middle English, are hard.
posted by nathan v at 4:41 PM on January 6, 2013


Please note I'm not saying one style is better than another.

Noted.

I would say that it can be learned later in life, but probably not by intentionally studying it at fashion school. The thing is, most people develop a level of comfort with a certain style, and revert back to it when they aren't thinking about it. It's unconscious, like an accent, it's just taste, and there's no real reason to go about being uncomfortable in a different style just because a different social class finds it more comfortable.

Men (of all socioeconomic classes) train themselves to be comfortable enough in stuff like suits and ties all the time, eg. when they get their first formal office job. It might not be what they wear in the comfort of their own home, but I'd say that it's not all that hard, for many people, to become accustomed enough to different styles to "fake being raised upper-middleclass" in appearance.

The bit where it's more of a conscious than reflexive construction of external identity can have other consequences, eg. for long-term mental health, but that's a different issue.
posted by eviemath at 4:42 PM on January 6, 2013


I suspect you may have just identified a good way of describing things that, like engineering or reading Middle English, are hard.

Colloquially, the expression "hard to fake [something]" connotes that the speaker thinks the skill or attribute is (mostly) innate rather than learned. It may well be that 517 meant it literally and I am misinterpreting, though.
posted by eviemath at 4:53 PM on January 6, 2013


This word, attractiveness. I don't think it means what anyone fucking thinks it means.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:06 PM on January 6, 2013


My colleagues J.K. Scholz and K. Sicinski here at Wisconsin found this effect in US data in 2011. They found an effect size roughly comparable to that of the well-known 'height premium.'
posted by escabeche at 5:17 PM on January 6, 2013


One can in fact go to design school and learn this sort of stuff.


If one has the sort of income/connections to get into design school, which is, IIRC, insanely expensive.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:27 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting that in Australia, the navy pays for breast implants. I don't see any mention on whether they increase the salary of sailors when they go through beauty makeovers.
posted by Metro Gnome at 5:37 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


correlation and causation are not the same etc. etc.

Causation is and always has been a subset of correlation. I rather think you meant to say that correlation does not prove causation.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 6:02 PM on January 6, 2013


As a facial plastic surgeon, I can vouch for this result in principle. People who look better feel better about themselves, present better, and are generally happier.
posted by fpsmo at 6:08 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Interesting that in Australia, the navy pays for breast implants. I don't see any mention on whether they increase the salary of sailors when they go through beauty makeovers.

The linked article is from the Daily Telegraph, which is a disgusting tabloid rag. This article has more detail, including the Australian Defence Force's response.

Tl;dr, in 2007 the Australian Defence Force paid for a handful of cosmetic procedures where there were "compelling psychological/psychiatric reasons", or due to disfigurements by work-related injuries.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:02 PM on January 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


-Inadequate access to dental care can lead to crooked/stained/rotten/missing teeth, abcesses, etc.
-Less money for healthful food/less time to prepare it can lead to more obesity.
-Less time for recreation/to get out in the sun/to go to the gym + more time with cheap forms of entertainment like TV=> maybe less likely to look physically fit.
-Higher rates of alcohol/drug/cigarette use affect appearance.
-Less money for expensive haircuts, good quality clothes => less polished appearance.


You left off the important factor -

Access to education and educated parents
posted by mattoxic at 7:24 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"...train themselves to be comfortable enough in stuff like suits..."

That statement tells me you've never worn a good suit, or perhaps didn't wear one early enough to have it be in your blood. I have worn bad suits, and they are very uncomfortable, but a good suit, of nice material, and tailored well is the most comfortable thing in the world to wear. I would wear one all the time, but I only have one, and it can only be cleaned so many times in its life. It also makes me look out of place half the places I go now. (However, I won't pretend for a second like ties are anything other than a torture device, but perhaps I would think differently about that had I been raised in the upperclass.)

It's not the things you think it is. It's the things you have no idea about, and don't know you have no idea about them. The same would be true if I pretended to have been raised by a blue-collar father.

Also don't overthink this one. I can tell most of the time, where I live right now, by a woman's shoes if she will know the definition of "albeit", I also couldn't give a fuck about it because the station a person is born into is just luck. What's much more important is what they did with it.
posted by 517 at 7:27 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


If anything I'm astonished the wage gap isn't even worse given people's prejudices.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:36 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


correlation and causation are not the same etc. etc.

DRINK.

I gotta formalize the rules to the Metafilter drinking game.
posted by Justinian at 7:39 PM on January 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


FECK.

Also, I wish that plastic surgery worked and could make me beautiful. I'd do it for the income premium.
posted by Yowser at 7:52 PM on January 6, 2013


Regarding the famous height premium, wasn't that proven to be mostly the effect of childhood nutrition affecting both height and IQ?

I'm having some troubles with Scribd at the moment, but it appears the authors did not normalize for IQ. It's entirely possible that ugliness in this case is only a proxy for being mentally stunted via childhood malnutrition.
posted by benzenedream at 8:16 PM on January 6, 2013


Although I agree with your basic premise, I can tell you that I can outfit myself in some nice wool slacks, a good cotton dress shirt, a wool overcoat, and good leather shoes for less than it costs to buy a cheap polyester new suit, a new cotton blend shirt, and some new fake leather shoes.

Hahahaha.

If you have many days free to spend dicking around in thrift stores and are lucky enough to live somewhere where rich people with taste give away their clothes, that's realistic. But if you live most places in America, this isn't really an option.
posted by indubitable at 8:16 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, bed bugs in the clothes.
posted by Justinian at 8:24 PM on January 6, 2013


If one has the sort of income/connections to get into design school, which is, IIRC, insanely expensive.

ffs. Design school was merely an example to indicate that affecting the outward appearance of different social groups is something that is a learned ability, that you don't have to grow up in the social group in order to be able to pull off convincingly. This is the same for presenting as a different socioeconomic class as for presenting as a different gender as for presenting as a different subculture like punk or goth or something. My point is that this is the case, and that economic resources affect the extent to which people are able to put on an appearance of being upper middle class more so than other factors; counter to what 517 seemed to be saying about more or less needing to grow up upper middle class in order to be able to consistently and convincingly display the outward appearance of an upper middle class person irrespective of one's current income status or economic resources.

That statement tells me you've never worn a good suit, or perhaps didn't wear one early enough to have it be in your blood.

In fact, I haven't. But my male friends of various socioeconomic backgrounds often complain about ties, regardless of how much they spend on them. I have indeed noticed that dressy women's clothing is much more comfortable when you get the sort that is well-made out of good quality fabrics, cut carefully and to one's body shape and generally fits well, and of patterns and colors that are flattering and stylish rather than too loud of just off. I've found that clothes with these properties cost significantly more money, however.

But women's clothing aside, many of my male friends will want to know, where do you get this properly tailored/fitted suit made of good quality material that is cheaper than the alternative marketed to lower middle income men? I have friends who would much rather be wearing comfortable suits that fit properly and would be quite appreciative of having this information. What about haircuts? Where can my friends (male or female) find good quality haircuts that signify a higher class status without spending more than, say, $10 every two months, assuming they don't have any hair stylist friends with the training in such cuts?
posted by eviemath at 8:28 PM on January 6, 2013


And I am curious: what is it about the shoes that correlates with vocabulary? Is it shoe style, or how well taken care of they are, or the material? I would like to test this. For science!
posted by eviemath at 8:29 PM on January 6, 2013


(On a nitpicky logical note: one set being a strict subset of another is indeed accurately, if not completely, described by saying that the two sets are not the same.)
posted by eviemath at 8:31 PM on January 6, 2013


I appreciate that Peter Martin posts his own photo prominently on the upper right hand corner of his blog.
posted by the jam at 8:43 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a facial plastic surgeon, I can vouch for this result in principle. People who look better feel better about themselves, present better, and are generally happier.

From the authors of the study:
When both are included in the regression, interviewer-assessed beauty remains statistically significant, but the coefficient on self-assessed beauty is small and insignificant... our findings do suggest that very little of the beauty premium is due to factors such as better-looking people being more self-confident.
We love to believe it's all about confidence, but there's something deeper (or is it more shallow?) going on here.
posted by the jam at 9:06 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't see any reason to discard Occam's Razor here: attractive people have an easier time of it in a lot of ways.
posted by Justinian at 9:29 PM on January 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


it's hard to fake being raised upper-middleclass even when you have the money to do so

I don't know what to think of this. On the one hand we have plenty of evidence that frauds and con men have managed to very successfully fool upper class society into thinking they are one of them. In recent times there was the German fellow who impersonated a Rockefeller - extremely successfully - and a Frenchman who did the same. Neither of them came from upper class backgrounds, and in at least in the case of the German, he managed to even imitate an accent though he was not a native speaker and learned English past his early teens (generally you can learn a language without an accent up to about the age of 12, unless you're a prodigy). And they have fooled not one or two people but scores and scores of them, often being married to them and have done so for decades. As a matter of fact, history is filled with extremely good con men/women who have managed to "pass" in a variety of settings, so it is clearly possible.

On the other hand. It is hard for me to imagine how such people function in all scenarios. Here's an example. I grew up in a family of wine collectors. I've been around wine and wine connoisseurs all my life. I find it hard to imagine someone who has had little exposure to that being able to pass as a wine expert to me - and it has nothing to do with how they can talk about wine. It has to do with years and years of handling wine bottles and glasses, opening them and tasting etc. There is a certain polish and fluidity of movement in opening a bottle that seems to me hard to fake without having years of experience. You can't just watch someone do it. It comes down to tiny things, even such things as how one looks at a bottle before opening it, where the eye falls in trying to form a judgment about the wine etc., etc., and a lot of it is unconscious and strikes me as hard to fake. That's just one example - and there are thousands of such aspects of behavior of someone who grew up around and, importantly, engaged in certain practices which again seem impossible to fake successfully.

But then again, maybe I too have been fooled by genius impersonators, so I would not want to make any absolute claims. Certainly an interesting phenomenon.
posted by VikingSword at 9:46 PM on January 6, 2013


I'm having some troubles with Scribd at the moment, but it appears the authors did not normalize for IQ.

I don't know about the Australians, but the Wisconsin authors did control for IQ.
posted by escabeche at 10:10 PM on January 6, 2013


Lightweight wool suit pants are the most comfortable pants you can wear besides PJs. I'd wear them all the time if not for the expense of dry cleaning. One day when I am a job creator I'm going to buy a bunch to be daytime PJs. fuck it, I may even sleep in them.

The most uncomfortable part of a suit may be your shirt collar and tie. Just get your neck measured properly.

There isn't anything magical to get stuff to fit well enough that it isn't uncomfortable. Just let the sales person measure you.

Brooks Brothers used to do free alterations for hemming pants, they probably still do. I take my stuff to my dry cleaners.

I guess all this does require you go to Brooks Brothers or Joseph A Banks at the very least as opposed to target.

You Probably have to spend a couple hundred bucks on a pair of shoes as well. Keep in mind you can re-sole them and you will have to if you get leather sole shoes. If you spend over maybe 500 you may need to be measured as well, somewhat expensive handmade shoes sometimes lack sizes.

If you really don't want to spend more than 10 on a haircut cut your own hair with clippers. I spend about 40 and that is pretty middle of the road.

If you view all this as an investment as opposed to a frivolous waste of money it makes it a bit more palatable.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:13 PM on January 6, 2013


Where are these well paying jobs for ugly people? I have a graduate degree, a background in analytics and I'm willing to move.

I estimate I make about 60% of what I would if I were attractive. I'm a woman, though, so the gender discount on my salary might be affecting overall income.
posted by winna at 12:09 AM on January 7, 2013


we have plenty of evidence that frauds and con men have managed to very successfully fool upper class society into thinking they are one of them

Don't forget they're lying. People who have to pass for a different class all the time have to lie all the time which will necessarily put them into a different state of mind to someone who is able to inhabit that class without lying. It is the ease and comfort that those born into privilege have in contexts of elevated class that embodies their privilege, not merely the access to those contexts without being thrown out.

Thirty years ago, the writer Ian McEwan wrote a film about this very thing called The Ploughman's Lunch in which Jonathan Pryce plays a journalist tortured by the shame he feels for his lower middle-class upbringing despite the fact that he has gone to the right university and got a professional career, set against the backdrop of the Tory party conference at a time when Thatcher's Tory party is just beginning to get into its stride.

Being English, and coming from the place that I did at the time that I did I know all of this stuff intimately. Added to which, the joys of pattern switching mean that I have several quite different accents which I employ instinctively in different circumstances to the mutual bewilderment of anyone who happens to hear me from a different context. So everybody gets to think I'm a fraud, not just the posh people.

Another British wrinkle would be the young working-class men who have traditionally dressed flamboyantly well above their social status as a marker of the working class identity rather than as a resistance to it. The most well-known example of this being the mod movement of the early 60s, though I'm more familiar with what came out of the mod revival in the 80s represented by the magazines like The Face or Arena.
posted by Grangousier at 1:32 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Men (of all socioeconomic classes) train themselves to be comfortable enough in stuff like suits and ties all the time, eg. when they get their first formal office job. It might not be what they wear in the comfort of their own home, but I'd say that it's not all that hard, for many people, to become accustomed enough to different styles to "fake being raised upper-middleclass" in appearance.

The bit where it's more of a conscious than reflexive construction of external identity can have other consequences, eg. for long-term mental health, but that's a different issue.


That's an interesting point. Upper-middle class or above men get to wear to work slightly more formal versions of what they might wear completely by choice in their free time. Switching from slacks and a collared shirt (with or without the occasional odd jacket) to a suit is really more of the same. Same thing with shoes, expensive men's casual shoes are quite similar to expensive men's shoes for more formal clothing. (How many people are going to be able to tell the difference between a Blucher and an Oxford shoe?).

That the upper middle class professional has the privilege of dressing and acting in his professional life in a way that matches his own instincts was something I've known for some time, but I hadn't considered the effect on the identities of someone who has to spend all day "wearing a costume".

That statement tells me you've never worn a good suit, or perhaps didn't wear one early enough to have it be in your blood. I have worn bad suits, and they are very uncomfortable, but a good suit, of nice material, and tailored well is the most comfortable thing in the world to wear.

I agree that good suits are very comfortable, this is still a good example of eviemath's point that people can learn to fake sartorial identities that aren't native to their own social class. I will counterpoint that a bit though and note that the less rigid and formal a dress code is, the harder it is to fake it. If everyone has to wear button-cuffed white shirts, solid coloured ties, and solid grey or navy blue suits with black leather oxford shoes - well anyone can fake that! What's harder is faking smart casual. In fact, if "smart casual" is a dress code for you rather than just the way you would dress anyway then you're an outsider.

I don't know what to think of this. On the one hand we have plenty of evidence that frauds and con men have managed to very successfully fool upper class society into thinking they are one of them. In recent times there was the German fellow who impersonated a Rockefeller - extremely successfully - and a Frenchman who did the same.

First of all, Grangousier correctly notes that frauds have it easier because they don't have to code switch or tell the truth, ever. Someone who has to conceal that his younger brother was in a gang, or that he grew up without learning to ski without actually lying has a much harder job.
posted by atrazine at 2:59 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess these numbers are quite interesting. I mean quibbles about methodology aside, that's a whopping difference between the attractive and the unattractive. And it's interesting that the discussion here tends towards the kinds of clothes to wear or school to attend when the study doesn't seem to mention those kinds of factors at all. The terrifying thing about beauty and charisma is precisely that they're so hard to acquire and so unfairly distributed. "Go to design school"? Only on Metafilter!
posted by deo rei at 3:29 AM on January 7, 2013


I would have guessed that this has nothing to do with grooming and mostly to do with facial symmetry which we are hardwired from an evolutionary perspective to select preferentially. While that may only apply to mating, I'm guessing that we use some of the same filters for every kind of value judgment we make.

I'm no social Darwinist, nor am I saying it's moral to be shallow just because we're biologically wired for it, but I suspect what I want the world to be in terms of equality is a long time coming.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:36 AM on January 7, 2013


We have some argument drift here. The linked study and similar studies have shown a surprisingly large difference in salaries correlated with attractiveness measured statically via third party observers rating photographs.

1. Charisma, personal habits, whether someone overall feels like (or is) an imposter, etc. have no bearing on this measure of attractiveness. I don't dispute that these things can be related to class background, and can have other influences on career success. They are not measured directly in the studies, however, and seem to me quite unlikely to indirectly influence the study results based on the methodology.

2. Clothing might, to the extent that it's visible in the photos. I personally and unscientifically suspect that it does.

3. A person's background might enter into the equation based on their carriage based on how comfortable they feel.

4. Grooming, hair cut, access to dental health maintenance, childhood nutrition, etc. are all economic factors that affect a person's facial appearance beyond innate symmetry and other hereditary biological factors contributing to appearance, however.
posted by eviemath at 10:08 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


So the argument is that there is likely a class component to the effect described in the research: that perceived attractiveness is affected by a person's economic status (presently and/or historically), and/or that perceived attractiveness and opportunities for career success both depend on a third variable of economic background (and here you could perhaps start linking all that othet stuff beyond static appearance in a photograph that might also be based in economic background and intermediate in some causal link between economic background and career success). As opposed to there being a strong direct causal link from some sort of biologically innate and non-socially/economically-influenced attractiveness to career success.
posted by eviemath at 10:17 AM on January 7, 2013


are all economic factors that affect a person's facial appearance beyond innate symmetry

Just thought of something else. Speaking of facial asymmetry, there's this. Men who drive for a living or do other kinds of outdoor manual labor probably have more of that kind of damage than men with white collar jobs.

Also, what about race? The fact that what human beings consider attractive sometimes depends on their race and the race of the person who they are observing?

It would be interesting to compare men who are the same age and race, have the same level of education, and work in the same profession, and *then* see whether incomes differ by "attractiveness."
posted by cairdeas at 12:08 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also kind of think that researchers can get more publicity for the work they are doing, and way more people will be interested in it, by framing it as "men just like you might be severely penalized for how they look" rather than "poverty might affect people's appearances in a negative way."
posted by cairdeas at 12:14 PM on January 7, 2013


wilful: That's a very trite dismissal that is essentially wrong.

Just because the correlation != causation argument is often used to bring scientific conclusions into question doesn't make it trite. Are you really saying that because people who are successful are often attractive, their success ipso facto flows from their attractiveness?

There are plenty of studies that show just as strong a correlation between attractiveness and being the child of a rich person. It doesn't require an inferential leap of faith to reach the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, having a lot of money for healthcare, better food, better clothing, luxury time spent exercising, etc., might have an effect on ones' physical appearance.

Of course, the fact that you can use statistical surveys to support any conclusion that catches your fancy isn't really within the bounds of the discussion here. But the fact that I got such a rise out of you with an admittedly facile response should make you (or hopefully someone) think about how much is actually explained by this survey and others like it.
posted by anewnadir at 2:39 PM on January 7, 2013



Just because the correlation != causation argument is often used to bring scientific conclusions into question doesn't make it trite. Are you really saying that because people who are successful are often attractive, their success ipso facto flows from their attractiveness?


No I'm not saying anything of the sort, I'm saying that your throwaway dismissal of the study was misleading and yes trite, and annoying. You clearly were dismissing the research without critically engaging. Nobody gets to drop a turd into a conversation without getting called out for it. As I said above (and many people I think agreed with me), “correlation does not equal causation” is very much a partial story, it cannot be said without thinking.
posted by wilful at 3:01 PM on January 7, 2013


More broadly, I’m glad eviemath has steered the conversation back to the central issue (yes only on metafilter could design school and comfortable quality suits get a run here): there are two competing hypotheses, which are inter-related and two sides of the same coin. Do attractive people get advantages in life due to their inherent physical qualities, or do higher class people manage to be more attractive. I’m certainly not going to completely dismiss the second hypothesis, but I really do think that these authors, or the ones that they cite, have considered this at some length, and to say that this is all an expression of class, which some of you appear to be almost saying, is wrong.

Then again, Australia has greater social mobility than the US and the UK, so the class argument comes less readily to me.
posted by wilful at 3:10 PM on January 7, 2013


cairdeas: There's a lot of room here for wondering what is correlation vs. what is causation.
The difference is, cairdeas, that you provided an elegant and thoughtful response demonstrating ways in which the correlation may not be fully causal, while anewnadir just spewed a trite phrase.

And, I agree. I remember discussing a poor classmate in early HS. We (boys) all agreed she'd be pretty if she got her teeth fixed, which obviously (to us) wasn't going to happen, given her family's income.

While much more "average"-looking girls from wealthier families had the right fashions, makeup, and especially health care to improve their appearance...
posted by IAmBroom at 3:37 PM on January 7, 2013


> I would say that it can be learned later in life, but probably not by intentionally studying it at fashion school.

You might do better with a tutor. Talk to professor 'enry 'iggins.
posted by jfuller at 11:14 AM on January 8, 2013


Maybe your definition of "trite" isn't the same as mine. I imagine "triteness" to mean unoriginal, not lazy. But no one thinks it's unoriginal, because many in this thread are willing to heap praise on someone who wrote a few paragraphs making essentially the same point while valiantly scorning my response as a conversational 'turd'.

But now instead of just being trite, it's also 'misleading'? The thinly-veiled conclusion in the original post--that we are a shallow society which rewards people for their looks--is the very definition of misleading.
posted by anewnadir at 1:08 PM on January 20, 2013


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