Sinlung /
01 April 2011

Does Beauty Buy Happiness?

By Jessica Bennett

Does Beauty Buy Happiness?NEW YORK – A new study appears to show that beautiful people are happier than their ugly counterparts—but research has also proven good looks to be a curse, especially on the job. Jessica Bennett reports.

If self-conscious young women didn't have enough to worry about, here's an awful new stereotype to add to the mix: Ugly people are sad. Not innately, of course—but over time, the curse of unattractiveness will affect them in so many ways that it's actually quantifiable. Ugly people make less money. They have trouble finding a mate. And in a culture that places insurmountable pressure on appearance, they don't feel as good about themselves when they walk down the street.

These are the findings of a new report out of the University of Texas at Austin, called "Beauty Is the Promise of Happiness". Compiling data from more than 25,000 people surveyed across four countries, economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jason Abrevaya compared respondents' happiness levels with how attractive they were (as judged by interviewers). Their finding? Those ranked in the top 15 percent of hotness were 10 percent happier than those ranked in the bottom tier of good looks. (In other words, not all ugly people are sad, but pretty people are statistically happier than their less attractive counterparts.) "Personal beauty raises happiness," says Hamermesh simply. "I know it's not terribly surprising, but what's neat is that nobody's ever documented this."

It all sounds terribly shallow, until you look at the data that produces those happy feelings. Studies have shown that attractive people earn, on average, some 5 percent more over a lifetime than their less attractive counterparts. Pretty people get more attention from teachers, mentors, even babies; and as we discovered in a special Newsweek report last year, attractive people are favored in the workplace to a surprising degree. (As one New York recruiter put it: "This is the new reality of the job market. It's better to be average and good-looking than brilliant and unattractive.")

But rest assured, beauty isn't always a blessing—particularly for professional women. Here are five ways good looks can be a curse.

1. For Women, Beauty Can Be a Double Bind Beauty may get them in the door, but attractive women tend to face heightened scrutiny from female peers, who rate them less competent, less talented, less loyal, and, strangely, less motherly than women from homelier stock. They also face what some have dubbed the "bimbo effect"—colleagues view their success as a function of superficial assets. In male-dominated fields in particular, pretty women can be seen as too feminine (and thus unfit) for leadership positions.

“Beauty is just one of the many things that affect how well you do. So take advantage of what you’re good at.”

2. Beauty Can Be Beastly In what's known as the "beauty is beastly" effect, one recent study found that attractive women are likely discriminated against outright—at least when it comes to hiring. Published in the Journal of Social Psychology, the study gave volunteers a list of jobs, along with photos of men and women suitable for those jobs, and then asked them to match the photos with the categories. For jobs typically considered "masculine," with titles like director of security, hardware salesperson, prison guard, and tow-truck driver, attractive women were overlooked, sorted instead into positions like receptionist and secretary. The same was true among more professional categories, like manager of research, director of finance, or mechanical engineer. "In every other kind of job, attractive women were preferred," Stefanie Johnson, the study's coauthor, told Science Daily. "This wasn't the case with men."

3. Playing Up Your Flaws Can Work to Your Advantage—at Least When It Comes to Finding a Mate This from a January study from dating site OK Cupid, which examined data from 43,000 users to try and determine what kind of women most men find attractive. What they found? That the more men as a group disagree about a woman's looks, the more they end up liking her; that guys tend to ignore girls widely considered to be attractive and opt for women who had less consistent ratings; that having some men think you're ugly actually works in a woman's favor (in terms of the number of messages she gets). What that means for ladies looking for a match? "We now have mathematical evidence that minimizing your 'flaws' is the opposite of what you should do," the site's editorial director and co-founder, Christian Rudder, said at the time. "If you're a little chubby, play it up. If you have a big nose, play it up. If you have a weird snaggletooth, play it up: Statistically, the guys who don't like it can only help you, and the ones who do like it will be all the more excited."

4. At Least We're Willing to Admit that Looks Discrimination Is Wrong In Michigan, there are laws against appearance discrimination. According to a Newsweek survey, 60 percent of respondents said they believe most Americans would favor a law making it illegal to discriminate in hiring based on looks.

5. Looks May Get You in the Door, But They Won't Keep You There Asked to rate nine character attributes from one to 10 (with 10 being the most important), corporate hiring managers told Newsweek that confidence and experience were still the most important assets when it comes to getting a job. As Hamermesh, the author of the happiness study, puts it: "Beauty is just one of the many things that affect how well you do. So take advantage of what you're good at."

Jessica Bennett is a Newsweek senior writer covering society, youth culture and gender. Her special reports, multimedia packages and original web video have been honored by the New York Press Club, the Newswomen's Club of New York and GLAAD, among other organizations. Follow her on Twitter.


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