Beauty and Productivity: The Case of the Ladies Professional Golf Association

By Ahn, Seung Chan; Lee, Young Hoon | Contemporary Economic Policy, January 2014 | Go to article overview

Beauty and Productivity: The Case of the Ladies Professional Golf Association


Ahn, Seung Chan, Lee, Young Hoon, Contemporary Economic Policy


INTRODUCTION

Since the seminal work by Hamermesh and Biddle (1994), a number of papers have investigated the relationship between earnings and physical attractiveness. Examples include reports by Biddle and Hamermesh (1998), Pfann et al. (2000). Hamermesh and Parker (2005), Mobius and Rosenblat (2006), Hamermesh (2006), Fletcher (2009), Berri et al. (2011), and Scholz and Sicinski (2011). (1) All of these studies indicate that the physical attractiveness of workers is positively correlated with their earnings or performance ratings. Thus, it is now considered an empirical fact rather than a disputable hypothesis, employers and/or customers give higher earnings and performance ratings to attractive looking workers. The question to be answered is why.

Biddle and Harnermesh (1998) considered two effects of physical attractiveness on earnings differentials: discrimination and performance-enhancing effects. The first is the effect of discrimination by employers and/or consumers who simply prefer to work with attractive looking workers or wrongly perceive them as more able. The second is the productivity-enhancing effect that may arise when physical attractiveness is a direct determinant of a worker's productivity (e.g., better looking attorneys may be more able to persuade or convince judges and juries). By analyzing data from an experimental labor market, Mobius and Rosenblat (2006) provide clear evidence for the first effect: attractive workers receive substantial premiums (beauty premium) not directly related to their true job performances. Their results suggest that attractive workers have strong self-confidence and superior social skills that can raise their wages when they interact with employers. Pfann et al. (2000) provide evidence for the second effect. By analyzing a sample of Dutch advertising firms, they find that better looking executives generate higher revenues for firms. (2)

The main purpose of this paper is to investigate another possible effect of attractive appearance on labor productivity. Specifically, we consider the possibility that attractiveness may enhance a worker's productivity even in a job not requiring good looks. A large number of research papers in the social psychology literature provide some supporting evidence for this possibility. For example, there is evidence that teachers perceive better looking children as more able and devote more attention to them, for example. see Hatfield and Sprecher (1986). Children who grow up receiving such attention may develop a superior learning ability that is directly related to their labor productivity, as well as noncognitive skills such as self-confidence and social and communication skills that may raise their wages but not necessarily their productivity. (3)

Attractive looking workers may also have stronger incentives to improve their productivity if ascriptive biases of employers or customers favoring beauty provide them with better earning opportunities. For example, if one unit of a product from attractive workers is rewarded more than that of their unattractive coworkers, standard economic theory predicts that attractive workers will put more effort into improving their productivity. The larger the biases favoring attractiveness in an economy, the larger the human capital (e.g., education, labor market experience, and job-specific skills) attractive workers may accumulate. That is, favoritism toward beauty not only provides extra rewards to attractive workers but can also influence their labor supply and human capital decisions.

Some studies have examined the possibility that discrimination or favoritism affects workers' labor supply decisions; see, for example, Parsons et al. (2011). (4) If the indirect effect of altered labor supply decisions is ignored because of such discrimination, the total effect of discrimination would be underestimated. Similarly, the total effect of beauty on earnings could be underestimated if the indirect effect of beauty on workers' earnings through their human capital accumulation decisions is ignored. …

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