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Myth or Fact? The Beauty Premium across the Wage Distribution


  • Doorley, Karina

    () (Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin)

  • Sierminska, Eva



We apply an innovative technique to allow for differential effects of physical appearance and self-confidence across the wage distribution, as traditional methods can confound opposing effects at either end of the wage distribution. Comparing the effects of beauty and confidence measures in two countries (Germany and Luxembourg), we find that wages are more driven by looks than self-esteem. Counterfactual wage distributions, constructed using distribution regression, show a beauty premium for women at the bottom of the wage distribution. However, most of this is explained by the fact that attractive women have better labor market attributes than their unattractive counterparts. We find a large wage premium for attractive men throughout the wage distribution which is largely unexplained by labor market attributes. There is a small wage penalty for self-confident individuals, particularly men, although their labor market characteristics are generally better than their less confident counterparts. We show that the difference in characteristics between beautiful and plain people contributes to the beauty premium identified using traditional models, particularly for women. Isolating the characteristic effect from the unexplained effect of beauty on wages leads to smaller beauty premium for women.

Suggested Citation

  • Doorley, Karina & Sierminska, Eva, 2012. "Myth or Fact? The Beauty Premium across the Wage Distribution," IZA Discussion Papers 6674, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6674

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Naci Mocan & Erdal Tekin, 2010. "Ugly Criminals," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(1), pages 15-30, February.
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    11. Jeff Borland & Andrew Leigh, 2014. "Unpacking the Beauty Premium: What Channels Does It Operate Through, and Has It Changed Over Time?," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 90(288), pages 17-32, March.
    12. Foresi, S. & Paracchi, F., 1992. "The Conditional Distribution of Excess Returns: An Empirical Analysis," Working Papers 92-49, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
    13. Mathä, Thomas Y. & Porpiglia, Alessandro & Sierminska, Eva, 2011. "The immigrant/native wealth gap in Germany, Italy and Luxembourg," Working Paper Series 1302, European Central Bank.
    14. Dorothe Bonjour & Michael Gerfin, 2001. "The unequal distribution of unequal pay - An empirical analysis of the gender wage gap in Switzerland," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 26(2), pages 407-427.
    15. DOORLEY Karina & SIERMINSKA Eva, 2011. "Beauty and the beast in the labor market: Evidence from a distribution regression approach," LISER Working Paper Series 2011-62, LISER.
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    18. Biddle, Jeff E & Hamermesh, Daniel S, 1998. "Beauty, Productivity, and Discrimination: Lawyers' Looks and Lucre," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(1), pages 172-201, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Sonia Oreffice & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2014. "Attractiveness, Anthropometry or Both? Their Relationship and Role in Economic Research," Working Papers 2014.106, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
    2. LIU Xing & SIERMINSKA Eva, 2014. "Evaluating the effect of beauty on labor market outcomes: A review of the literature," LISER Working Paper Series 2014-11, LISER.
    3. Markus Gehrsitz, 2014. "Looks and Labor: Do Attractive People Work More?," LABOUR, CEIS, vol. 28(3), pages 269-287, September.
    4. Doorley, Karina & Sierminska, Eva, 2015. "Myth or fact? The beauty premium across the wage distribution in Germany," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 29-34.
    5. Sonia Oreffice & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2015. "The Role of Body Size in Economic Research Above and Beyond Beauty," CHILD Working Papers Series 35, Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic Economics (CHILD) - CCA.

    More about this item


    discrimination; distribution; physical appearance; wages;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J30 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - General
    • J70 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - General

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