Skip to content

Pretty people do better in life


Social scientists tracking the life outcomes of over 8,000 people over 35 years have found those with the prettiest faces were more successful in their careers.

Exploring the impact of male and female facial attractiveness on occupational prestige was published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, a journal of the International Sociological Association Research Committee on Social Stratification and Mobility (also known as RC28).

Controlling for IQ, level of education, parents’ education and other factors, the researchers found strong evidence that beauty plays a role in what jobs we get and how well we do.

Dr Gundi Knies, researcher at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, who completed the study with sociologists from the University of Milan Biococca, said:

“In Sociology, economic, cultural and social resources have always been held responsible for driving social inequalities. This research shows that other aspects may also play an important role in shaping people’s outcomes over the life course.

Being pretty has had an impact on the kind of jobs people do and on the career progression of the people we have studied. In contrast to other studies we looked at the effect over the whole career and we found that facial attractiveness is as important in determining people’s occupational prestige at the beginning of the career as it is in the middle or at the end of the career. Or in other words, the so-called beauty premium is stable throughout people’s employment history and pretty people are doing better even as they age.”

The research offers a fresh perspective to the study of social inequalities and could improve the current understanding of whether physical attractiveness affects people’s employment careers. The researchers explored the impact of beauty over people’s life course by tracking 8,000 participants in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study over 35 years. A panel of experts assessed the participants’ high school yearbook photos and awarded each a beauty score. The researchers then tracked the participants’ careers over the next 35 years looking at their employment history. Those with the highest beauty scores were found to have the better jobs and more prestigious careers over those with lower scores, despite other differences in socio-economic background, parent education and even their own IQs.

Dr Knies said the preliminary findings of their research could have important implications for studies on equality and social mobility:

“Our facial features are largely genetically determined and the research raises a number of questions regarding the processes that underlie the reproduction of social inequalities. For example, do beautiful men and women have higher occupational prestige because employers discriminate against plain people? Or is it that beautiful men and women choose more prestigious occupations, for example, because they enjoy a higher self-esteem and are more self-confident?”