Does perceived physical attractiveness in adolescence predict better socioeconomic position in adulthood? Evidence from 20 years of follow up in a population cohort study
There is believed to be a ‘beauty premium’ in key life outcomes: it is thought that people perceived to be more physically attractive have better educational outcomes, higher-status jobs, higher wages, and are more likely to marry. Evidence for these beliefs, however, is generally based on photographs in hypothetical experiments or studies of very specific population subgroups (such as college students). The extent to which physical attractiveness might have a lasting effect on such outcomes in ‘real life’ situations across the whole population is less well known. Using longitudinal data from a general population cohort of people in the West of Scotland, this paper investigated the association between physical attractiveness at age 15 and key socioeconomic outcomes approximately 20 years later. People assessed as more physically attractive at age 15 had higher socioeconomic positions at age 36– in terms of their employment status, housing tenure and income - and they were more likely to be married; even after adjusting for parental socioeconomic background, their own intelligence, health and self esteem, education and other adult socioeconomic outcomes. For education the association was significant for women but not for men. Understanding why attractiveness is strongly associated with long-term socioeconomic outcomes, after such extensive confounders have been considered, is important.
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