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Looking Good is Half the Battle: How Occupational Gender Distributions Shape the Returns to Physical Attractiveness and Grooming in the U.S. Labor Market

  • Author(s): Placek, Karolina
  • Advisor(s): Penner, Andrew
  • et al.
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Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license
Abstract

Data is drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and the 2000 U.S. Census in order to analyze how different dimensions of physical appearance and the gender distribution of workers within a given occupation influence earnings. Grooming was identified as the primary determinant of attractiveness, and higher levels of attractiveness and grooming were positively associated with earnings. Although the labor market returns to physical attractiveness and to personality attractiveness did not differ significantly by gender, women generated greater returns to grooming whereas men experienced some significant BMI-based premia.

This study uniquely shows that the returns to attractiveness and to grooming fluctuate not only according to an individual’s gender identity, but also to the gender composition of their job. The returns to attractiveness differed between male-dominated, female-dominated, and gender egalitarian jobs - especially among women. Women within male-dominated jobs experienced income penalties for being unattractive or very attractive. Thus, male-dominated occupations not only persist as ripe sites for the proliferation of gender-based and attractiveness-based inequalities, but they are the sole occupational context where the Beauty is Beastly Effect was detected. The Beauty is Beastly Effect did not similarly occur on the basis of grooming, nor did it impact men.

The returns to grooming varied across the three occupational gender distributions to a greater extent than the returns to attractiveness, and they did so in more complex ways. The returns to grooming varied more for women within each occupational context, but they varied more for men between the three contexts. Interestingly, sex-segregated occupations primarily impeded the grooming premia earned by very well groomed men. Overall, men and women may be more susceptible to income penalties for violating gendered appearance norms when they are employed in a “gender inappropriate” job.

Finally, in occupations where female and male workers were more equally represented, attractiveness penalties were no longer identified and there were also fewer gender differences in the returns to attractiveness and to grooming. These findings suggest that the continued efforts to diversify occupations can contribute towards eradicating gender-based and appearance-based labor market inequalities.

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This item is under embargo until September 7, 2022.