May 20, 2016

Investing in your appearance leads to success in the workplace

A new study by sociologists Jacyln Wong and Andrew Penner from the Universities of Chicago and California reveals that changes in women’s grooming habits can have a substantial effect on how much they earn.

Studies conducted in the late 1970s revealed that attractiveness is consistently an advantage for men in the workplace, and an advantage for women seeking non-managerial positions. Like those past studies, Wong and Penner’s research shows that attractive people tend to earn higher salaries; however, it also suggests that grooming—applying makeup and styling hair and clothing—is actually what accounts for nearly all of the salary differences for women of varying attractiveness.

Less attractive but more well-groomed women earn significantly more, on average, than attractive or very attractive women who aren’t considered well-groomed. But, whilst for women most of the attractiveness advantage comes from being well groomed, for men, only about half of the effect of attractiveness is due to grooming.

So, why are grooming practices typically more important for women than men?

One theory is that women just have a wider range of beauty practices available to them, so grooming can make more of a difference. Another is that these gender differences are the result of a cultural tendency to monitor women’s behavior more than men’s, in ways that keep women distracted from really achieving power. Wong believes there is probably some truth in both explanations.

In an article for IZA World of Labor, Soohyung Lee investigates whether investment in a broader range of beauty-related goods and procedures pays. She notes that “[a]chieving greater equality in beauty through beauty-related goods and services may lessen discrimination based on physical attributes and thereby improve economic efficiency.” But, she stresses that whilst “[n]umerous such goods and services have been developed to expand the options for enhancing physical attractiveness … at the current stage of technology, scope for improvements in beauty remains fairly limited, and the monetary costs generally outweigh the monetary benefits.”

In an opinion piece on the same subject, Eva Sierminska poses a more controversial question: “Rather than fighting against people being judged on their looks, why don’t we make an effort to at least to look our best given the resources that we have?” She concludes that “given the evidence proving that good-looking, well-presented people are more successful, we could all use a little guidance on making the best of what we already have.”

Related articles
Beauty pays but does investment in beauty?, by Soohyung Lee
Does it pay to be beautiful?, by Eva Sierminska
Opinion: It pays to be beautiful: Investments in appearance lead to success in the workplace, by Eva Sierminska