Beauty, Job Tasks, and Wages: A New Conclusion about Employer Taste-Based Discrimination

Beauty, Job Tasks, and Wages: A New Conclusion about Employer Taste-Based Discrimination by Todd R. Stinebrickner, Ralph Stinebrickner, Paul J. Sullivan

[I’m sceptical that there’s no discrimination in jobs where beauty doesn’t generate a dividend for the employer, but what would I know? And more to the point if I can’t publish papers against my priors at Troppo where could I? In any event, it’s pretty clear there’s beauty based discrimination here in the Troppo collective. NG]

We use novel data from the Berea Panel Study to reexamine the
labor market mechanisms generating the beauty wage premium. We
find that the beauty premium varies widely across jobs with
different task requirements. Specifically, in jobs where
existing research such as Hamermesh and Biddle (1994) has posited
that attractiveness is plausibly a productivity enhancing
attribute–those that require substantial amounts of
interpersonal interaction–a large beauty premium exists. In
contrast, in jobs where attractiveness seems unlikely to truly
enhance productivity–jobs that require working with information
and data–there is no beauty premium. This stark variation in
the beauty premium across jobs is inconsistent with the
employer-based discrimination explanation for the beauty premium,
because this theory predicts that all jobs will favor attractive
workers. Our approach is made possible by unique longitudinal
task data, which was collected to address the concern that
measurement error in variables describing the importance of
interpersonal tasks would tend to bias results towards finding a
primary role for employer taste-based discrimination. As such,
it is perhaps not surprising that our conclusions about the
importance of employer taste-based discrimination are in stark
contrast to all previous research that has utilized a similar
conceptual approach.

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One Response to Beauty, Job Tasks, and Wages: A New Conclusion about Employer Taste-Based Discrimination

  1. derrida derider says:

    I always liked Dan Hamermesh’s work in this field. But it does make sense that jobs with more personal interaction have their measured productivity more closely linked to the person’s physical attractiveness. But then all jobs require personal interaction so it should just be a matter of degree.

    Anyway it squares with what a lot of organisational and labour economics research shows – that productivity is an attribute of the quality of the job match (getting round pegs in round holes and square pegs in square holes) rather than just generic attributes (eg intelligence, beauty, willingness to bend over for the corporation) of the hiree alone. A clever but ugly person is always going to struggle as a PR spokeshumanoid, a TV presenter or a politician, while we see plenty of beautiful fools succeeding in those jobs.

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