'Pretty privilege': Why attractive people earn more

Regé Jean-Page. (Getty Images)
Regé-Jean Page was named world's most handsome man in January by a doctor using facial mapping. (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

So, research has proven being attractive doesn't just help to open doors, good looks put more money in your pockets too, whether you're a footballer or professor.

On average, among men, the top third of ‘lookers’ earn 10% more than those in the bottom six.

Meanwhile, the difference in earnings between the ‘best-looking’ third of women and the ‘worst-looking’ sixth may be between about 5-8%.

And since men on average earn more than women, the best-looking men earn a lot more than the best-looking women – around 20-25%.

That’s all according to leading expert Daniel Hamermesh, a labour economist and professor at the Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Texas at Austin, who has spent the past 30 years studying the issue.

Read more: Bridgerton star Regé-Jean Page named world's most handsome man, according to science

How we perceive attractiveness

“First, we have to have some agreement on what is beautiful, right?” he says, referencing the line you may be thinking of – ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.

“If we all beheld things differently, we wouldn't be having this discussion. But in fact, we do behold things very similarly.

“You walk down the street, I walk down the street and we see somebody. We won't be perfectly agreed about how the person looks, but we'd be pretty close.”

While he acknowledges comparing across racial groups may impact this, with more data needed on minorities, he believes society's view of what beauty is is pretty universal.

Good looking man in shirt. (Getty Images)
The 'best-looking' men earn a lot more than the 'best-looking' women in the workplace. (Getty Images) (Dimitri Otis via Getty Images)

But why do those we deem attractive earn more? “That's a hard question,” Hamermesh admits. “It probably goes back to the fact that hundreds of years ago, if your face looked good, you were [assumed] healthy.

“It was also beautiful to be big because that’s a sign of health. I know my grandmother who was born in 1887 was always worried that I was too skinny, and I probably wasn't healthy – people worried about tuberculosis in those days."

But while this is different today, he adds, "We are still pretty much agreement about what attractiveness is" – consistent with the idea of health.

Of course, this is reflective of bias and not actual truth.

"Recognising faces is one of the most important things we do," he adds. "We're concentrating on this all the time. And if it meets some standard of what we think is 'good-looking', we're going to reward that if we're able to give out some kind of favours, like a job... or marriage."

Hamermesh agrees this is fairly "depressing", and despite it all sounding quite outdated, believes it still rings true today.

Read more: Why TikTok users are appalled by new Bold Glamour filter

But are we taking into account factors like confidence, or purely attractiveness?

“In several of my papers on this, we had measures of confidence, and while confidence matters somewhat, it really hardly alters the effect of beauty on how well you do.

“So it isn't confidence. The beauty may make you feel good about yourself, and make you feel self-confident, but the impact of that is fairly small."

And how does someone actually go from being 'good-looking' to earning more?

“Does it help somebody at the interview stage? Yes. Does it help somebody going from an interview to getting an offer? Yes," he says. "There are a couple of studies showing the better-looking people are more likely to get an interview in the first place.

"We also know that among those employed, they do better. So it [beauty] helps in all of those stages, from hiring to the pay process.”

Hamermesh is quick to point out though, that employers aren’t necessarily favouring attractiveness over experience, for example. But beauty – along with things like education, age, gender, race, class and personality – is one factor that seems to make a difference, at different scales, for different jobs.

This may help to explain all those CEOs worth billions that you may or may not be thinking of...

Attractive middle-aged woman. (Getty Images)
Being attractive has more perks than just a higher salary. (Getty Images) (insta_photos via Getty Images)

While it's obvious beauty might pay in some industries, does it help across the board? “There are a lot of studies of different occupations, and in almost all of them it matters," says Hamermesh.

Referring to a study on the National Football League [American football], he explains, "The better-looking quarterbacks, who basically direct the team, are paid more, presumably because the players pay more attention to them.

"Even with economists and economics professors, the better-looking ones make more money."

The financial perks don't just start and end at salary either. "They get better deals on house mortgage loans, better terms," he says, citing further previous research.

Read more: Here's what happens to your body when you're happy

Man writing on blackboard. (Getty Images)
Looks seem to pay more across almost all professions. (Getty Images) (Emilija Manevska via Getty Images)

But what about everyday life, like getting free coffees or being let off small fines. Is 'pretty privilege' real?

“I would expect it is but it's got to be small in terms of somebody's wellbeing compared to the extra money one might receive. For me that’s the real biggie.”

Of course, it all seems fairly shallow and unfair if attractive people really do earn more across the board.

Hamermesh poses the question we're all thinking, “Who or what is the ultimate source of this?" before blaming... us.

“My feeling is, and I had a bit of evidence on this from one of my studies, that the employer is not the source of this issue," he continues.

"The enemy in this is us, it's you and me as consumers feeling that beautiful is good, and being willing to pay for it. The employer then wants to make money and indulges your or my preferences for good looks."

Read more: Grey hair don't care: George Clooney voted world's sexiest silver fox

A collage of beautiful people's eyes. (Getty Images)
The more good-looking among us are likely to continue earning more for many years to come. (Getty Images) (Jun via Getty Images)

Is there anything being attractive can actually hinder financially?

“There's one study that suggested the very best-looking women are viewed as being intellectual lightweights, [perceived as] bimbos. They might not do as well as other good-looking/gorgeous women.

Hamermesh admits to being a 'lookist' himself, something he's conscious of after studying the subject for so long. So, will we all change? "Not even in your lifetime, much less mine."