Q: A bunch of studies show that beauty makes a positive difference in school and salary. But what am I supposed to do about that? I can't change the way I look.
A: Follow-up research to the previous studies on the positive impact of beauty on salaries and GPA have found that personal grooming makes up a significant part of beauty. And you do have control over your grooming. There are two related studies that show this.
Previous research showed a positive impact of beauty (for boys and girls) on GPA, such that good-looking people have a correlated boost to their GPA.
However, some researchers at the University of Miami sought to determine what exactly goes into beauty that is influencing this effect. Beauty can mean a lot of things:
- A “beautiful” face or body?
- Attention to good grooming?
- An attractive personality?
These researchers published a study in 2009 in the journal Labour Economics to determine how much each of these factors influenced the “beauty premium” for high school students' GPA.
A ton of data was pulled from a large survey of students called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. A number of “waves” of interviews were done with students over a period between 1994-2002. The interviews measured a number of factors of student personality, health, and academic success, and the students interviewed in 1994 were tracked over the years and interviewed periodically till 2002.
The researchers plugged in the effects of a number of factors into a statistical model to determine each one's effect on GPA. These included:
- Physical attractiveness (as rated by those performing the interviews)
- Grooming (again rated by interviewers)
- Personality traits (rated by interviewers)
- Other individual characteristics (reported by student)
- Family characteristics (reported by student)
- School characteristics (reported by school)
The researchers were able to pull apart the influence of each of these variables on GPA.
Very physically attractive males tended to have better GPAs and unattractive males had lower GPAs, but when all factors were taken into account, this effect was not strong enough to be statistically significant (the researchers couldn't be sure it was not due to chance).
However, being “very well groomed” was strongly related to higher GPA, and having below-average grooming was strongly related to lower GPA.
Having a “very attractive personality” was also strongly related to higher GPA, and having a below-average personality attractiveness was significantly related to lower GPA.
In other words, grooming and personality were more reliably related to GPA than personal attractiveness.
What does this mean? It means that your ability to be “beautiful” (and reap the benefits in your success) is within your power. Your grooming and personality are the strongest aspects of your “beauty” when it comes to raising your academic success.
This shows that there is a “grooming and personality” effect in school, but does this effect continue into adulthood and into the workplace?
The same researchers published another study in 2011 in the journal Labour to answer this question. The researchers sought to examine whether the same factors (beauty, personality, and grooming) had an impact on earnings when the students got jobs.
Once again, data from the same study (the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health) was pulled for examination, only this time the data was taken from the students once they reached adulthood (18-28 years old).
The effects of physical attractiveness, personality attractiveness, and grooming were all examined and the effect of each on salary/wages were examined.
By itself, being “very physically attractive” does result in a 12% increase in salary/wages for men. Having at least “above average physical attractiveness” had a significant effect on earnings.
However, when the separate effects of grooming and personality attractiveness were factored in, physical attractiveness became slightly less important.
Grooming was also strongly related to salary/wages. Being well-groomed or very well-groomed resulted in a 4-5% premium in earnings.
Here's an interesting finding, though. After finding these premiums, the researchers dug a little deeper into which occupations were most influenced by the beauty/grooming premiums.
The researchers found that the “beauty premium” exists across all occupations and is even larger in jobs where beauty is less important (which is weird).
But even more interesting: the “grooming premium” was highest in jobs where personal traits (such as productivity) are most important.
In other words, being well-groomed especially matters in jobs were your personal traits count (and not so much your beauty).
In both studies, physical attractiveness does seem to matter for both students and those in the workplace.
However, both studies show that being well-groomed is part of being attractive, and generates a premium (higher GPA and higher earnings), especially in jobs where personality counts.
By contrast, being poorly-groomed has a negative impact on the same indicators.
Being well-groomed may be productivity-enhancing, or might communicate traits that show that one cares about personality and performance.
Q: Okay, you convinced me. Being well-groomed can enhance my salary. So I guess I should wake up two hours earlier and spend all that time working on my physical appearance?
A: Uhh, no. Probably not.
Two researchers from Elon University sought to determine what (if any) effect existed between time spent grooming and earnings, and published their findings in the Journal of Socio-Economics in 2011.
In other words, is there a relationship between how much time a man spends grooming himself and how much he makes?
The researchers pulled data from the American Time Use Survey, which polled a number of American workers from 2003-2007.
- In that survey, the workers simply filled out questions that detailed what they did with each hour of the previous work day. What activities did they engage in? Who were they with? Where were they?
“Time spent grooming” was a variable constructed by combining all the time a worker spent: washing, dressing, brushing teeth, shaving, laying out and changing clothes, combing hair, gargling, applying moisturizers, etc.
Then, the researchers isolated just the grooming activities that occurred prior to an employee going into work.
The researchers then statistically examined the effect of time spent grooming on a person's salary/wages. Because earnings tend to differ between minority and non-minority men (unfortunately), they were analyzed separately.
For non-minority men (meaning White/Caucasian), spending more time grooming than average did not result in any significant effect on wages. In fact, spending more time grooming resulted in a slight decrease in earnings.
For minority men (anyone non-White), there seemed to be evidence of an increase in earnings when more time was spent grooming. A doubling of daily grooming time (40 extra minutes) resulted in an almost 4% increase in average earnings. It wasn't a lot, but it was significant.
For the most part, spending more than 20 minutes or so on grooming in the morning didn't seem to influence earnings (and may have a detrimental impact).
- This may suggest that, while good grooming does influence earnings, there's also a premium on efficient grooming. Quality over quantity.
However, for minority (non-White) men, there did seem to be some evidence for a premium on grooming.
The researchers suggested a (kind of depressing) explanation. They said that minority men may have to work extra hard to overcome negative stereotypes about grooming in minorities. Thus, they gain a benefit from more grooming time.
French, M. T., Robins, P. K., Homer, J. F., & Tapsell, L. M. (2009). Effects of physical attractiveness, personality, and grooming on academic performance in high school. Labour Economics, 16, 373-382. Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0927537109000037
Robins, P.K., Homer, J. F., & French, M. T. (2011). Beauty and the labor market: Accounting for the additional effects of personality and grooming. Labour, 25(2), 228-251. Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9914.2010.00511.x/abstract