Friday, March 7

The role of gender and beauty in economics

We know that being beautiful helps in the workplace, yes? Or rather, if you are ugly (like me), then you face problems. Also, if you are a male (also like me, but that gets washed out because of the ugliness, see above), you benefit. So appearances do matter. But has anybody delved deeper into this? This paper has.

What they did was to create an experiment where they controlled various variables around the contribution by each member, gender, relative attractiveness, and that of the group. They found, when performance is not known to the respondents, they tended to reward beauty and females. So as long as you are in a group, then the eyes will normally fall to the beautiful females. On the other hand, when performance is known (even when it is the same) the female premium vanishes. The author's point to 3 factors behind this result.

  1. relative beauty is rewarded. So if you are attractive compared to others, then you will get more money. As as simple as that. If you are an ugly pugly, then you will get peanuts. 12% is the premium, and that's a huge amount! And this seems to be because you expect beautiful people to be more cooperative. But if you then let the respondents know about their individual contributions, the weight of defeated expectations actually works against the attractive people. So the lesson is, get dressed well and put on make up, but dont let anybody know about your salary.
  2. Second, women earn 7% more than men when individual contributions are not known. Simply because we think that women are more helpful! This is also because attractiveness seems to play a bigger part in the case of women compared to men!
  3. But this disappears when contributions are known, and the payoff for men is a startling 15%.

I quote a line from their conclusion: The most striking result from this research is that, on average, men and women did not behave very differently, and attractive people did not behave appreciably differently than unattractive people. Nonetheless, beauty and gender had significant effects on earnings. This happened because beauty and gender affect the way people were treated by others.

It is quite interesting how people behave to stereotypes. Now if you are a manager, you need to think about how to manage these bias's inside yourself, while if you are an employee (male or female), you need to make sure that you look attractive. And if you are female, enhance your visible contributions if in an open group. If you are male, stop ogling those attractive women!.

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