Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Christina Hendricks as head secretary Joan Holloway on Mad Men. Numerous studies have found that the more attractive a person is, the more money he or she makes.
Christina Hendricks as head secretary Joan Holloway on Mad Men. Numerous studies have found that the more attractive a person is, the more money he or she makes.

Survival of the hottest Add to ...

If you're wondering why you can't get a job or worry that you might not be making as much money as some of your colleagues, it could be time to take a long look in the mirror.

Last week, Gawker.com reported that Dov Charney, founder and CEO of American Apparel, had ordered that all the less attractive people who work for the company be fired because, according to an anonymous store manager quoted on the site, "he feels they may be hurting his bottom line."

While Mr. Charney says the allegation is false, the fact that the idea didn't sound implausible serves to remind us that when it comes to work, things are always looking good for the good-looking, experts say.

"A person's physical attractiveness has a significant impact on who is hired, who is promoted and, once hired, who gets the higher income," says Gordon Patzer, author of Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined.

Sometimes, it's a matter of what you're wearing. Polishing your appearance can certainly help your career, says Pat Elke, a Toronto-based image consultant.

"Within a tenth of a second of entering a room, people that haven't known you before will form 10 opinions about you based on the only criteria available to them, which is your clothes, your outward appearance and your body language," she says.

Still, iron your shirt and comb your hair all you want; there's not much you can do, for example, to make yourself taller - one measure of conventional attractiveness that can have an impact on a person's career.

In a 2003 study, researchers at the University of Florida looked at what height can do to a person's paycheque. The study found each inch in height amounts to about $789 (U.S.) more in pay each month. That means someone who is 6 feet tall can expect to make $5,525 more each year than someone who stands 5 feet 5 inches.

As well, tall people are 90 per cent more likely to become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, according to Arianne Cohen, author of The Tall Book.

Numerous studies have found that the more attractive a person is, the more money he or she is going to make.

In one such study conducted by Daniel Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas, above-average-looking people were found to earn 5 per cent more per hour than average-looking people, thanks to what Mr. Hamermesh calls the "beauty premium." And it doesn't matter if the hottie in question is flipping burgers or flying planes. Regardless of their job, attractive people were found to make more moolah.

"It's pretty much universal across all occupations," Mr. Hamermesh says.

However, physical attractiveness does not confer benefits on men and women equally.

"At the higher executive level, people question much more for women than for men if their looks got them to the position or if their competence got them to the position," Mr. Patzer says.

The higher a woman rises in the executive world, the greater the likelihood that her physical attractiveness will detract from her credibility, he says.

In general, though, the beautiful people are given preferential treatment in all walks of life, not just work, Mr. Patzer says.

"Society values and likes people of higher physical attractiveness more than [people of less physical attractiveness]"

And when we privilege the pretty, we usually aren't conscious of it.

"If you ask people, 'Do you treat people differently based on physical attractiveness?' people will all say no," Mr. Patzer says. "Time and time again, we see that their ultimate decision certainly equates with the person's physical attractiveness. They're either not aware of it, which is true to a large extent, or they refuse to admit it."

One group that is apparently aware of the advantages enjoyed by the attractive is the beautiful people themselves.

In a survey conducted last year by BeautifulPeople.net, the social networking site that offers "exclusive access to the beautiful", asked 7,500 Canadian members if their looks had helped them "get ahead" in life, socially or professionally. Nearly 85 per cent said yes, their looks had helped them get ahead.

Greg Hodge, managing director of the site, explains things this way: "If you've got two people who have got exactly the same qualifications, on paper they're both exactly the same and one of them is attractive and one of them looks like she's been hit by a bus, you tend towards the attractive person."

Hardly a beautiful sentiment.

As for Mr. Charney, he wrote in an e-mail that he does want his employees to look good - but that doesn't mean they have to be good-looking.

"At American Apparel, we strive to hire salespeople who have an enthusiasm for fashion and retail and who themselves have good fashion sense," he said. "But this does not necessarily mean they have to be physically attractive."

Report Typo/Error

Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn


Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular