Report: Beauty premium affects income levels

personal income

Physically attractive people make more money than perceived less attractive people, a new study from the Tippie College of Business finds.

The study used 3D body scan technology to determine body shape and then compared those shapes to the person’s income. The results showed an income premium for men who are taller, while women who are overweight pay an income penalty.

For every increase in height by one centimeter corresponds to a $998 increase in family income in a family that earns $70,000. Researchers also found that, for women, every one-unit decrease in Body Mass Index is associated with a $934 increase in family income in a family that earns $70,000.

The report confirms the “beauty premium” phenomenon, says Suyong Song, associate professor of economics and finance for the Tippie College of Business. The theory says people who are considered attractive get workplace and social benefits that are unavailable to those considered unattractive. These benefits can be better jobs and higher salaries.

Using machine learning, the researchers compared body shape to family income and found the link. Mr. Song says the study shows the need for public policies that reduce bias based on appearance in the labor market. He says that workplace training should promote awareness of discrimination based on appearance which people may not even be aware they have, and that hiring and promotion processes should use more tools like blind interviews to reduce potential bias.

The study, “Body Shape Matters: Evidence from machine learning on body shape-income relationship,” was published in the journal PLOS One. It was co-authored by Stephen Baek, associate professor at the University of Virginia.