How Much Is Being Attractive Worth? For men and women, looking good can mean extra cash in your bank account
Beautiful people are indeed happier, a new study says, but not always for the same reasons. For handsome men, the extra kicks are more likely to come from economic benefits, like increased wages, while women are more apt to find joy just looking in the mirror. “Women feel that beauty is inherently important,” says Daniel Hamermesh, a University of Texas at Austin labor economist and the study’s lead author. “They just feel bad if they’re ugly.”
Hamermesh is the acknowledged father of pulchronomics, or the economic study of beauty. It can be a perilous undertaking. He once enraged an audience of young Mormon women, many of whom aspired to stay home with future children, by explaining that homemakers tend to be homelier than their working-girl peers. (Since beautiful women tend to be paid more, they have more incentive to stay in the work force, he says.) “I see no reason to mince words,” says the 69-year-old, who rates himself a solid 3 on the 1-to-5 looks scale that he most often uses in his research.
The pursuit of good looks drives several mammoth industries—in 2010, Americans spent $845 million on face-lifts alone—but few economists focused on beauty’s financial power until the mid-1990s, when Hamermesh and his colleague, Jeff Biddle of Michigan State University, became the first scholars to track the effect of appearance on earnings potential for a large sample of adults. Like many other desirable commodities, “beauty is scarce,” Hamermesh says, “and that scarcity commands a price.”