Why the Beautiful People Get All the Stuff

Behavioral Psychology
People considered physically attractive enjoy many social and professional benefits others do not. But the reasons why are more complex than you might think. Behavioral economist and author Dan Ariely explains the psychological processes behind the "beautiful people" effect.
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TRANSCRIPT

Dan Ariely: So we have lots of physical characteristics; beauty is one of them. And the question is: What is the beauty premium? What do people that are more beautiful get away with that other people don't, or do they? And the answer is yes, they do. And all kinds of reasons for that. Some of the reasons have, of course, have to do in the dating or marriage market, right. And we have these evolutionary analysis of the healthiness of people and things like symmetry and skin without blemishes and all kinds of things like that. And basically create cues for people to think about how evolutionarily fit that person is. So in the dating market, of course people who are more beautiful and we infer from that that they’re more evolutionarily fit are more attractive. But this also happens to be the case in non-reproduction markets like the job market. And it turns out that even in those markets, it is the case. So more beautiful people do get all kinds of benefits. And one of the nice papers on this was actually written about height and not about beauty. But the principles are the same. So there is a height premium. Tall people make more money than short people. I’m 5’9” — not so good for me. Taller people make more money. But in that particular paper they looked at the age in which people shot up and they looked at their final height. So, in general, people who are tall at age 40 were probably also tall at age 17 and 15, but not everybody.

There are some people who shoot up in height earlier and some people shoot up in height later. And what they found out was that the way height was concerned, it was about height at puberty rather than final height. So if you shot up in height earlier, but then you stopped. So your final height is not that high but when you were in puberty you were relatively tall, people still got the premium for as if they were tall. And if you were not tall during puberty and then you just became taller later, you don’t have the same premium. Now what this suggests is that it’s not just about the final attribute. It’s not just that we look at tall people and say hey, there’s a tall person. Let me give them more money. But partially it has to do with self-confidence. Because what happens is that at age puberty the tall people basically get to experience more confidence and the shorter people get to experience less confidence. And that confidence stays later whether or not they stay tall. And I think the same thing would happen if we could do this study on beauty. But yes, if you’re beautiful, I would look at you. I would say, “Hey, you’re just pleasant to stay around. You’re probably qualified in all kinds of ways like that.” But if you were beautiful at puberty or at a young age and you got lots of attention and so on, it might be the case that you now have confidence that comes from that. So it’s not just my perception of you, but it’s your own definition of yourself that is changing because of that. And that would be like a self-fulfilling prophecy. So maybe the advice is to let all kids during puberty think that they are beautiful or something like that.