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It Pays to be Beautiful. Here's Proof

If you're good looking, you're probably reaping some serious monetary rewards. That's according to Beauty Pays, a new book by University of Texas at Austin economics professor Daniel Hamermesh. According to his studies, the best looking American workers earn an extra $230,000 over the course of a lifetime when compared to similar employees who ranked at the bottom of the pulchritude scale.

It's not just earnings; it's everywhere. Beautiful people are more likely to remain employed and get promoted. They score better loan terms for housing and cars (although they're also more likely to default). Attractive women marry higher earning husbands.

I spoke to Hamermesh about this and to see whether I could use this rationale to justify cosmetic dental work in our 2012 family budget. Here's what he said:

Q: Why the bias towards beauty? Is it just natural that people want to be surrounded by the beautiful folks?
Daniel Hamermesh: They want to be surrounded by them as workers, they want to be buying from them, they want to be looking at them as employees. The question of whether it's natural is the crucial question. A long time ago being good looking was a signal you were good for reproduction. Today, ugly people are as capable of reproduction as anyone else. My personal view is that this is just a leftover in our behavior from a time when it really did matter. As such, I personally view this as discrimination. You may disagree and think that if people want to have good looking people around, that's their right and not discrimination.

Q: Is there a universal standard of beauty? Is it facial symmetry or a full head of hair?
DH: No, no, no, no, no. First of all, being follicle-y challenged, I don't like the full-head-of-hair standard. Take Patrick Stewart. Is he good looking? Of course. It's not only facial symmetry either. As I've said many times, it's like pornography: I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. And we all agree when we see beauty. Not perfectly, but closely.

Q: You've written that cosmetic changes, like getting your teeth whitened, or getting your wrinkles botoxed, is going to have only a minor effect on earnings.
DH: Exactly. There aren't many studies on that. My own study on clothing, cosmetics and hair suggests that the impacts are small in terms of how those affect your earnings. Another study looking at plastic surgery in Korea suggests it doesn't pay for itself.

Q: That's too bad. I was going to use that to justify getting braces next year.
DH: Look, I don't want to put down these industries. Frankly, if you'll be happier doing all these things, the issue is not money in life; the issue is happiness. If that makes you happier, go for it. Spend your money on it.
Q: Say you find yourself one of the people whose beauty is challenged in some way...
DH: The term is looks-challenged.

Q: Your advice is to play up your strengths.
DH: Bottom line. Looks are only one of many things that affects how well we do in life, and by life, I mean jobs, spouses, loans and any other market. Therefore, play up the thing that you're good at, the thing that you're comfortable with. Don't bemoan this.

Q: If you're not so attractive, should you try to get your loan over the phone?
DH: Project a confident attitude. If you're intelligent, take advantage of that in various ways. There are all kinds of other things that matter.
Q: I find this depressing, because I can think of so many situations in my career where beautiful people have risen to the top and they act like such [expletives].
DH: That's right, but think of how much better they would have done if they weren't [expletives]. That's how I would look at it. It's a shame, they could have done better with their looks if they were decent human beings. Beauty is not everything, by any means. Beauty is just one part of all the things that affect how well we do.

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