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Myth or Fact? The Beauty Premium across the Wage Distribution

  • Doorley, Karina



  • 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.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 6674.

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Length: 37 pages
Date of creation: Jun 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Economics Letters, 2015, 129 (April), 29–34 (doi:10.1016/j.econlet.2015.01.033)
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6674
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  1. Mobius, Markus & Rosenblat, Tanya, 2010. "Why Beauty Matters," Staff General Research Papers 32112, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  2. Victor Chernozhukov & Ivan Fernandez-Val & Blaise Melly, 2013. "Inference on counterfactual distributions," CeMMAP working papers CWP17/13, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  3. 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.
  4. Naci Mocan & Erdal Tekin, 2010. "Ugly Criminals," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(1), pages 15-30, February.
  5. Derek A. Neal & William R. Johnson, 1995. "The Role of Pre-Market Factors in Black-White Wage Differences," NBER Working Papers 5124, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Jeff E. Biddle & Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1995. "Beauty, Productivity and Discrimination: Lawyers' Looks and Lucre," NBER Working Papers 5366, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Nicola Persico & Andrew Postlewaite & Dan Silverman, 2001. "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height, Third Version," PIER Working Paper Archive 04-013, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, revised 05 Jan 2004.
  8. Ronald Oaxaca, 1971. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Urban Labor Markets," Working Papers 396, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  9. Daniel S. Hamermesh & Xin Meng & Junsen Zhang, 1999. "Dress for Success -- Does Primping Pay?," NBER Working Papers 7167, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Nicola Persico & Andrew Postlewaite & Dan Silverman, 2003. "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height," PIER Working Paper Archive 03-036, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
  11. 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.
  12. López Bóo, Florencia & Rossi, Martín A. & Urzúa, Sergio S., 2013. "The labor market return to an attractive face: Evidence from a field experiment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 118(1), pages 170-172.
  13. 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.
  14. Michael French, 2002. "Physical appearance and earnings: further evidence," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 34(5), pages 569-572.
  15. Anindya Sen & Marcel-Cristian Voia & Frances R. Woolley, 2010. "Hot or Not: How Appearance Affects Earnings and Productivity in Academia," Carleton Economic Papers 10-07, Carleton University, Department of Economics.
  16. Fortin, Nicole & Lemieux, Thomas & Firpo, Sergio, 2011. "Decomposition Methods in Economics," Handbook of Labor Economics, Elsevier.
  17. 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.
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