Hotness Only Pays for Old, Male Profs

A new paper that finds that male professors who are "hot" are financially rewarded, while female professors who are "hot" are not.

For years I have been one puzzled by one observation, when it comes to the men I know in my profession (economics professors): The rating that students give them on the website as to whether they are hot (or not) has little correlation with own my personal assessment of their hotness. Don’t get me wrong, economics professors are hot, I think we can all agree on that. But the student ratings for men don’t really jibe with what we think of in general as "hotness." When it comes to female profs, on the other hand, I would say that the opposite is true and that the hotness ratings very much reflect characteristics associated with hotness such as physical beauty and youth. If students judge male and female professors by different standards on their level of attractiveness, this would explain the results of a new paper that finds that male professors who are hot are financially rewarded, while female professors who are hot are not.

There is a significant body of literature that finds a wage premium to physical beauty. One of the problems with this research is that it is difficult to directly measure worker productivity. For example, if we observe two women who are doing essentially the same job and find that the one who is more attractive is paid more than the one who is less attractive, it is tempting to assert that she is paid a premium for her beauty. But if other factors are correlated with both beauty and productivity, confidence for example, then in the absence of a direct measure of her output it is difficult to argue for the existence of wage discrimination based on appearance.

The productivity of professors—on the surface at least—is hard to measure. We can observe publication records and research grants, both of which should be at least correlated with productivity (although not perfectly). But measuring teaching productivity is more difficult.

In an ideal world we could observe how much students learned in their classes. Maybe we could use standardized exams, but given the diversity of topics and the ranges in difficulty levels between classes this would a challenge. We could see how students do when they leave our classes, in either other courses or in the workforce, but how would we measure that? So we rely, as we have done for years, on student evaluations of teaching performance. With that information, we can construct (perhaps flawed) measures of productivity that can be used to test the existence of a beauty premium in academia that controls for variations in productivity that may, or may not, be correlated with appearance.

This new paper, which looks at the wages, productivity and hotness of economics professors in Ontario, finds that male professors who are rated as "hot" on the Rate My Professor website are paid more than those who are not. This is true even after controlling for all other productivity factors, as well as field of research, size of institution, et cetera. The most interesting result is that this hotness premium only appears once men are beyond the middle of their career; there is no hotness wage premium for young, male professors. This suggests that the premium is not paid for what we traditionally think of as hotness (or beauty) but rather supports my earlier contention that students rate their male professors as hot on characteristics other than physical attractiveness, characteristics that could also be correlated with earnings: confidence, assertiveness, creativity, et cetera.

When it comes to female professors, there is no evidence of a beauty penalty (which I discussed in a post a few weeks ago) nor is there evidence of a beauty premium. This is true for women regardless of where they are in their career, but that result is because, unlike the men, students don’t rate their fifty-year-old female professors as "hot" just because they are confident or assertive. In fact, not a single female full professor in the sample has any "chili peppers" (which means that more students voted them hot than not). Qualities other than physical beauty that might earn female professors a hotness rating, kindness and generosity for example, are more likely to be negatively correlated with earnings than positively correlated.

When we are deciding whether or not we buy that there is a hotness premium for male academics, we need to remember that correlation does not imply causation. Consider a conversation I had with a mathematician a few years ago (I will leave you to figure out why) in which he said: "North American women are so shallow. In Europe, women will sleep with me just because of my publication record."  Maybe what this study tells is that he is wrong; North American women also are attracted to more successful academics.

— Sen, Anindya and Marcel Voia and Frances Woolley (2010). “The effect of hotness on pay and productivity” Working Paper.

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Kosovo land swap could end conflict - or restart war

Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case

Image: SRF
Strange Maps
  • The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
  • Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
  • A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict

The death of Old Yugoslavia

Image: public domain

United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.

Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.

The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.

After the wars

Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.

The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.

So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it wasn't: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Serbians are historically very attached to it. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.

Kosovo divides the world

Image: public domain

In red: states that recognise the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).

The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it actually has a lot of international support for that position (2).

The irony is that on the longer term, both Kosovo and Serbia want the same thing: EU membership. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.

Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued, between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.

Land for peace?

Image: BBC

Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.

In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.

The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.

The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.

If others can do it...

Image: Ruland Kolen

Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.

Sceptics and not a few locals warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.

Western powers, which sponsored Kosovar independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.

In principle, countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging, but land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the Meuse river (3). But those bits of land were tiny, and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders carry a lot more weight in the Balkans.

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The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.

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