key topic

Does it pay to be physically fit and beautiful?

People spend millions of dollars on fitness club memberships, beauty treatments, and plastic surgery. But does this pay off economically? Labor market discrimination based on physical attributes is widespread. Obese people are less likely to be employed and, when employed, are likely to earn lower wages; physically attractive people, on the other hand, earn more than those considered to be less attractive; and looks can even be pivotal in national elections. So how much should one invest in good looks and what should and can be done to fight discrimination that hurts the efficient running of economies?

  • How do candidates’ looks affect their election chances?

    Looks matter and can tip the scales between the right and left

    Panu Poutvaara, June 2017
    Good-looking political candidates win more votes around the world. This holds for both male and female candidates. Candidate appearance may be especially important for uninformed voters, as it is easy to observe. Voters may favor good-looking candidates because they expect them to be more competent or persuasive, but it can also be that voters simply enjoy laying their eyes on beautiful politicians. As politicians on the right have been deemed more attractive in Europe, the US, and Australia, the importance of beauty in politics favors conservative parties. A related finding is that voters use beauty as a cue for conservatism.
    MoreLess
  • Beauty pays but does investment in beauty?

    Despite the large returns from an attractive appearance, the cost-effectiveness of investment in beauty is ambiguous

    Soohyung Lee, October 2015
    Being beautiful gives a person an advantage in many settings. Attractive people earn more and have an easier time getting hired. People spend large amounts of money on goods and services to enhance their beauty. Is this enhancement worth pursuing? Research suggests that the expected improvement in beauty from these goods and services is limited. Therefore, despite the large returns from having an attractive appearance, the cost-effectiveness of investment in beauty enhancement is ambiguous. For the average person, the monetary benefits of plastic surgery, medical treatments to increase height, and expensive clothing are not worth the cost.
    MoreLess
  • Does it pay to be beautiful?

    Physically attractive people can earn more, particularly in customer-facing jobs, and the rewards for men are higher than for women

    Eva Sierminska, June 2015
    It is a well-established view amongst economists that good-looking people have a better chance of employment and can earn more than those who are less physically attractive. A “beauty premium” is particularly apparent in jobs where there is a productivity gain associated with good looks, though this is different for women and men, and 
varies across countries. People also sort into occupations according to the relative returns to their physical characteristics; good-looking people take jobs where physical appearance is deemed important while less-attractive people steer away from them, or they are 
required to be more productive for the same wage.
    MoreLess
  • Sports, exercise, and labor market outcomes

    Increasing participation in sports and exercise can boost productivity and earnings

    Michael Lechner, February 2015
    A productive workforce is a key objective of public economic policy. Recent empirical work suggests that increasing individual participation in sports and exercise can be a major force for achieving this goal. The productivity gains and related increase in earnings come on top of the already well-documented public health effects that have so far provided the rationale for the major national and international campaigns to increase individual physical activity. The deciding issue for government policy is whether there are externalities, information asymmetries, or other reasons that lead individuals to decide on activity levels that are too low from a broader social perspective.
    MoreLess
  • Youth sports and the accumulation of human capital

    Positive contributions to cognitive and non-cognitive skills justify public support of youth sports

    Michael A. Leeds, February 2015
    In response to declining budgets, many school districts in the US have reduced funding for sports. In Europe, parents may respond to difficult economic times by spending less on sports clubs for their children. Such cuts are unwise if participating in sports is an investment good as well as a consumption good and adds to students’ human capital. The value of sports is hard to measure because people who already possess the skills needed to succeed in school and beyond might be more likely to participate in sports. Most studies that account for this endogeneity find that participation in youth sports improves academic and labor market performance.
    MoreLess
  • Obesity and labor market outcomes

    The hidden private cost of obesity: Lower earnings and a lower probability of employment

    Susan L. Averett, May 2014
    Rising obesity is not only a pressing global public health problem. There is also substantial evidence that obese people, particularly women, are less likely to be employed and, when employed, are likely to earn lower wages. There is some evidence that the lower earnings are a result of discriminatory hiring and sorting into jobs with less customer contact. Understanding whether obesity is associated with adverse labor market outcomes and ascertaining the source of these outcomes are essential for designing effective public policy.
    MoreLess