Good Looks, Good Pay?
Beauty and the Beast is the fable of a young woman who frees her prince from the body of a beast with love. But a similar tale - call it "Beauty and the Labor Market" - finds pay differentials based on looks and doesn't have a happy ending for just plain folks.
Two university researchers say the penalty for plainness is 5% to 10% lower pay in all occupations, or slightly larger than the premium for good looks. Daniel S. Hamermesh, an economist at the University of Texas, Austin, and Jeff Biddle, an economist at Michigan State University, held demographic and job types constant and concluded that looks are a key element in earning power. "Better-looking people sort into occupations where beauty is likely to be more productive," the researchers conclude. "But the impact of individuals' looks on their earnings is mostly independent of occupation."
Rule of thumb for all of us who aren't fashion plates: Play to your strengths. "I suggest that you rely on characteristics that make you productive," Hamermesh says from his office in Texas. "If you're smart, rely on brain power; if you're strong, rely on muscle; and if you're personable, rely on your personality."
The researchers controlled for variables such as experience and education. Surprisingly, looks are more important for men than women. In the mid-1990s when the study was completed, the ugly penalty for men holding full-time jobs totaled about $2,600 in reduced pay per year, and the pretty-boy premium came to about $1,400. For women, the penalty for bad looks was $2,000, and the premium for good looks was $1,100 per year.
Unattractive women are less likely than their average or good-looking counterparts to hold jobs and are more likely to be married to men with what the researchers call "unexpectedly low human capital." That's a polite way of saying little talent, drive or prospect of success. We like to think the meritocracy is immune to high cheekbones, button schnozzes and a good head of hair, but the researchers found that looks count even in law, a competitive, performance-based field.
In another research project, Hamermesh and Biddle reviewed the earning power of law students graduating from the same law school from 1971 to 1978 and 1981 to 1988. A panel of four people reviewed pictures of each law student, including one person younger than 35 and at least one older than 35 from each sex. The law students were ranked on a scale of one to five, with five as the best looks score. The four ratings were averaged to create a student's overall rank on the looker scale. There was no objective standard for determining good looks, but participants knew it when they saw it.
The researchers found that, five years after graduation, males who ranked one notch above average earned about 10% more than fellow students who ranked one notch below average. Fifteen years after graduation, the premium for good looks grew to 12%. The researchers say the pay differential held for lawyers working in both the private and public sectors.
In a another study, the researchers found that spending great gobs of money on makeup, haircuts and fancy duds does little to improve the perception of people with so-so looks and doesn't increase their earning power. Other researchers, using pictures of the same people as children and in middle age, found that people with a mug that could wreck a freight train in their youth didn't become better looking over the years.
However, it may be that customers prefer to work with people who are easy on the eyes. If higher earning power comes from customer taste--not employer discrimination--that would appear to undercut the premise of much employment discrimination law.
Other researchers found that young obese women earn 17% less than women within the recommended Body Mass Index range. But women who gained a significant amount of weight during the 1981 to 1988 study period earned only slightly less than women within the average weight range.
Some research has found that there's a premium for height, and that taller men generally earn higher pay than their average or short counterparts, including men in top management positions such as that of chief executive officer. But even if you look like a toad, the key to your low pay and diminished prospects could be that you act like a toad.
In a research paper for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, researchers Kristie M. Engermann and Michael T. Owyang said, "Certain characteristics, such as appearance, might affect productivity in ways that are not as easily measured (or as obvious) as are other characteristics, like education or experience. Appearance, for example, can affect confidence and communication, thereby influencing productivity."
Height and weight might also influence productivity through health or self-esteem. Some researchers have theorized that height may increase the participation of high school students in social activities, giving them the opportunity to develop the interpersonal skills that boost productivity in the workplace. If so, it's not hard to see why such people are prized--and rewarded--by a range of companies such as General Motors, Wal-Mart or Wells Fargo.
Still, pay differentials could be the result of raw discrimination. Maybe employers and co-workers simply don't like being around fat, ugly people. But if fat, ugly people develop a bad attitude over time, discrimination apparently based on looks may not tell the full story. So, remember your grandmother's wisdom: Beauty is only skin deep, but true ugliness cuts right to the bone. Translation: A good attitude and hard work can do a lot to overcome that rutabaga nose, but nasty people are just foul.
Seven No-Nos When Asking For A Raise
You want more money. Great. Who doesn't? Asking for a raise requires preparation, skill, timing and a fallback plan. It also demands wrapping your mind around a basic fact many employees miss: A pay increase is based on performance and the market for your skills. "The worst thing you can do is base a request for a raise on personal issues," says Bill Coleman, senior vice president for compensation at Salary.com in Needham, Mass. "Saying, 'I need a raise because I have a gambling problem' is a loser. It's also a bad idea to ask for a raise if the company is having layoffs. Superstars can get a raise because the company must retain its best performers. If you're not sure that you're among the elite, you're not."
Build your case for a raise by making a list of your accomplishments in the previous year. If, for example, you've outperformed other sales representatives, have the figures handy to back up your statement. Remind the boss of the new accounts you've landed, or the current customers you've kept from jumping to the competition.
Don't be bashful about listing your accomplishments, but don't be boastful, either. Let the numbers tell the story. If you're a manager, detail the initiatives you've launched and problems you've solved, and tell your boss how this has boosted morale and plumped the company's bottom line.
Before talking to your boss, learn what your company can afford by reading its quarterly earnings report, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission if it's publicly traded, or by gauging its general economic health, if it's in private hands. If there have been layoffs and sharp cutbacks and desks remain empty after people leave, don't ask for the moon and don't expect much, if anything.
There are many salary surveys available online or at the library that break pay down by industry and job title. They're helpful but often not definitive. Keep regional differences in mind, and remember that engineers typically get paid more than English majors, even if they handle the same job.
Summarize your pitch for a raise in a short written statement, and have a trusted colleague read it. This will underscore any points you've missed or not made clearly, and may help anticipate your boss's response. If you're a good employee in a competitive field, it's unlikely your boss will turn you down cold.
But if your boss rejects your request and tells you to continue pulling on the oars, the game's not over. "If you ask for a raise and don't get it, most people walk away," Coleman says. "That's just the first step. Your response shouldn't be whining, sulking or storming out of the office. You should ask your boss, 'What do I need to do to get the raise I think I deserve?'"
If the response isn't encouraging, it may be time to start looking for another job. No job lasts forever, and you may have exhausted prospects for advancement with your current employer.
If things don't go well with the boss, consider the possibility that your performance and attitude could be limiting your pay. If that's not the case, think about moving on. But don't threaten to quit on the spot, because your boss may wave farewell and you've got to be prepared to back your statement with action. If you don't have another job lined up, you're sunk.
Timing is everything in love, hitting the curveball and asking for a raise. If you don't receive an annual salary review, make your pitch when your boss has the time to listen. Chances are it won't be first thing Monday morning or late Friday afternoon. Start negotiations slowly--ask to set up a time in a short e-mail. Be patient if you don't get an immediate response. Your boss hasn't forgotten you--and don't assume that everything revolves around you, or should.
Tailor your pitch to your needs and the company's capabilities. More money is always nice, but taxes will gobble a good chunk of any raise, and your company may not be able to give you the salary you want. If money is tight, think about other things, such as education, child care and health coverage.
If you want to pursue an M.B.A., you may be able to cut a deal to take time off for class or even get tuition assistance. If you have small children, you may be able to work from home several days a week. You may be able to apply part of the raise to increased health benefits. Unless your job is covered by a union contract that requires everyone to march in lockstep, assume that every reasonable request is on the table.
These pointers will work for large and small companies across all industries, including banks such as Wells Fargo, software companies like Microsoft, semiconductor companies like Intel and food companies such as Tyson. "A raise should be based on performance and market data establishing the value of your job," Coleman says.
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