Do your looks determine your salary at work?

Researchers find that while physical attractiveness may have an effect on earnings, it isn't the only factor at play.
Researchers find that while physical attractiveness may have an effect on earnings, it isn't the only factor at play. Getty Images

Despite commonly held beliefs, how much you get paid does not depend on how attractive you are, a new study has found.

Researchers conclude that the so-called “beauty premium” and “ugliness penalty” on earnings may just be a myth, especially since “unattractive” people were found to earn just as much – if not more – than their “very attractive” counterparts.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, followed 20,745 people between the ages of 16 and 29 at four different points in their working lives.

READ MORE: Searching for a job? Make sure you have these skills on you resume

Researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, which measured the attractiveness of the participants on a five-point scale and analyzed the data against five personality traits: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness. They also looked at intelligence and health.

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“Physical attractiveness may appear to have an effect on earnings, because more attractive workers are simultaneously healthier, more intelligent and have better (in particular, more conscientious, more extraverted, and less neurotic) personality more conducive to earning more,” the study says.

But when researchers looked a little closer they found that those who were deemed “very unattractive” also scored higher in health, intelligence and personality, which resulted in higher salaries.

Researchers concluded that it wasn’t just a person’s physical appearance that impacted a person’s wages, but a combination of these personality traits, intelligence, attractiveness and good health.

The study wasn’t able to explain why the similarities exist.

Several similar studies in the past, however, have found a correlation between attractiveness and salary in some way.

One of them, a 2009 study by the American Psychological Association, discovered that physical attractiveness and confidence not only helped people score jobs more easily, but also impacted their wages for the better.

According to researchers, good-looking people often think more highly of their worth and capabilities. This, in turn, leads to more money and less financial stress.

“Little is known about why there are income disparities between the good looking and the not-so-good looking,” said lead author Timothy Judge of the University of Florida. “We’ve found that, even accounting for intelligence, a person’s feeling of self-worth is enhanced by how attractive they are and this, in turn, results in higher pay.”

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For Shawn D’Souza, talent acquisition manager at Workopolis, hiring an employee and determining their pay scale should be based on skill first.

“I believe in today’s age, being attractive has its own perks but having been a recruiter for all my professional life it all depends on who can do the job well,” he said.

And while looks might not be everything, it still accounts for something in certain careers, like the service and retail industries where looks could be considered a bonus to employers, D’Souza says.

READ MORE: The 7 professional traits that will help you get a promotion at work

However appearance (not to be confused with attractiveness) should still be regarded in the workplace. This means dressing for the environment and being mindful of one’s body odour, D’Souza adds.

“[Appearance] goes a long way in a job,” says D’Souza. “Even if I’m not told to wear a suit on any particular days or basis, I will make sure I’m coming in [in a suit] some days because it’s for my own self confidence … Because if you’re coming in to work looking drabby and you’re not wearing proper clothes to work then that’s going to take a toll on you and your professional career as well. Always be out there to impress.”
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Another trait to have that is going to elevate your work life that shouldn’t be underestimated is a positive outlook.

“If you’re professionally dressed and come in on a regular basis with that positive attitude then you’re in it to win it.”