Published December 18, 2013
| Fox News Latino
If it seems like some people have it all, it’s probably because they do.
For some time now, researchers have known that attractive people tend to fare better than others in the workplace – first hired, better paid, more frequently promoted, last fired. But recent research suggests that "not all of the wage gap can be attributed to discrimination at the time of hiring and promoting,” explains Rachel Gordon, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Some of that is because of earlier attainment,” she told Fox News Latino.
In other words, looks-based discrimination begins earlier in most people’s lives. Like, oh, say, high school.
Gordon is one of the lead investigators in a study published last week by the Society for Research in Child Development looking into physical attractiveness and measures of attainment in adolescence.
“What we found,” Gordon said, “is that the things that come along with being attractive in high school – dating, drinking, having sex – have negative aspects in terms of attainment, those are offset by the advantages.”
This goes against the popular wisdom, or maybe wishful thinking for some, that attractiveness and achievement rarely go together. A view expressed to the researchers by one overweight young woman who believed that she had an academic advantage over her more conventionally attractive peers who had to deal with “guys, drinking, parties, and most of all, freedom.”
So, if you’re keeping score: On top of having more fun, attractive people tend to get better grades in high school – about a .65 difference in GPAs between those rated "unattractive" and those deemed "very attractive" in Gordon's study – have higher self-esteem, are healthier (in body as well as in mental health), graduate from college at higher rates and land choicer jobs.
The study (called “Physical Attractiveness and the Accumulation of Social and Human Capital in Adolescence and Young Adulthood”) drew on two data sets. One was a statistical analysis of the University of North Carolina’s National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which followed 15,000 students from 7th grade into young adulthood between the 1990s and late 2000s. The other was a study conducted by Gordon and her coauthors, Robert Crasnoe and Xue Wang, of Lamar High, a large, ethnically-diverse school in Houston.
“We tested for, but did not find, variation by race-ethnicity or gender,” Gordon told Fox News Latino. In the national sample, 16 percent of all the students self-identified as Latino or Latina; at Lamar, that figure was 36 percent.
“The lack of variation” in their findings, Gordon went on, “suggests that the general conclusions extend to Latino children, although there’s nothing in the piece that speaks uniquely to their experiences.”
Of course, standards of attractiveness tend to vary between different ethnic groups — as Gordon points out, African-Americans tend to find heavier bodies more attractive than the rest of the U.S. population does. Both at Lamar and in the national study, respondents were rated by interviewers on a scale of 1 to 5 in attractiveness. In similar studies, this kind of assessment has been tested by a second interviewer. “There is a high level of consistency in the ratings, regardless of the race of the people involved,” Gordon noted. “But that’s something we all think about, and I don’t want to suggest that there may not be a better way.”
It may be part of the overall “beauty bias,” Gordon suggested. “In day-to-day life, people make many snap judgments about others based on their style of dress or grooming. What is it that leads to the kind of consistency that we see in how people are judged to be attractive or not? It may have to do with facial symmetry, bigger eyes, signs of health and vitality.”
As for differences in race and ethnicity, Gordon agrees that there is a lot left to study. “In general, we are hoping that our work will spur more research,” she said. “And certainly there’s room for a push on that side.”