Marie-Hélène Budworth

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, specializing in learning, development & motivation.

Marie-Hélène Budworth

Ugly people need not apply

September 7th, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized

This is an ‘eye catching’ topic that finds its way back into popular conversation every once in a while.  It would be outrageous, if it weren’t true. 

Daniel Hamermesh published a piece in the New York Times on the weekend arguing that “ugly” people should be protected by some form of affirmative action.  This is based on a large volume of research that has found that attractive people earn more on average than unattractive people.  In 2009, Tim Judge linked attractiveness to educational accomplishment and a decrease in financial strain.  The underlying finding is that in some systematic way, people who do not meet our collective standards of “attractiveness” are disadvantaged in ways that matter.  They are less likely to receive job offers, they are evaluated more harshly, and they are locked out of opportunities for advancement.  Despite the strength of these findings I am uncomfortable each time I read them – much as I am when I look at work that finds salary advantages for thin people or people of a given ethnic background. 

So the interesting thing about Hamermesh’s piece is not that attractive people have an advantage, but that we as a society, should do something about it.  We are starting to move outside of my area of research and into one of policy development and law, however, I am intrigued by the thought.  Psychological research often informs policy in meaningful ways.  For example, courts of law often use psychological standards of assessment to judge the defensibility of employment standards.  At the same time, there is something qualitatively different between attractiveness and other forms of discrimination.  But as Hamermesh argues, does this matter given that they lead to the same outcome – disadvantage? 


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