BETTER-looking people are better off economically; conversely, less-attractive people appear to be penalized in the labor force, according to two studies recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).
In ``Beauty and the Labor Market,'' Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle found that below-average-looking people earn 5 to 10 percent less than people of average looks. In turn, average-looking people earn about 5 percent less than good-looking people.
Their data came from three sets of interviews conducted in the United States and Canada beginning in 1971. Interviewers were asked to rate the respondents on physical appearance on a five-point scale: strikingly handsome or beautiful; good looking; average for age; below average for age; or homely.
Out of a sample of 3,500, 9 percent of the men interviewed were considered homely. Adjusting for factors such as education, age, marital status, number of years with an employer, and company size, the authors found that these homely men were penalized about 10 percent in hourly earnings. The 32 percent with above-average looks received an earnings premium of 5 percent.
For women, the premium for good looks averaged about 4 percent; the penalty for bad looks was about 5 percent. Women of below-average looks were also penalized in the marriage market, typically marrying men with less education.
``I wasn't surprised that good-looking people make more [money],'' says Professor Hamermesh, who teaches economics at the University of Texas, Austin. ``I was surprised that the problem affects men as much as women.''
In another NBER study, Susan Averett and Sanders Korenman found that obese women had lower family incomes than women of average weight for height. The authors also found some labor discrimination against obese women. But marriage probabilities and spouses' earning potential accounted for as much as 95 percent of their lower economic status, the authors found.
``These differences in income are fairly well known,'' says Professor Korenman, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota. ``But I thought before this study that social class might explain it: Those with less education and less information about diet were more likely to be obese and of lower economic status independently of that.''