We’ve been reading a lot lately about how good-looking people have advantages in their careers. In a new interview with the Wall Street Journal, author Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas in Austin, puts a number on that advantage, and explains why plastic surgery won’t give you a good bang for your buck.
In Hamermesh’s new book, “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful,” he calculates that being good-looking is worth $230,000 extra over the course of a typical career. And the advantage holds even on the lower rungs of the sexiness ladder: An average-looking person can be expected to earn $140,000 more than an ugly person. In almost every single profession that Hamermesh looked into, the beautiful had an advantage, including in professions you wouldn’t expect, like teaching in college. The only exception: If you’re a violent criminal, being ugly seems to pay off. But that only holds true for crimes like armed robbery; in white-collar crime, the good-looking regain their advantage.
So if you haven’t been gifted with beauty, what are you supposed to do? Hamermesh says that plastic surgery is a bad investment: Research shows that it pays back less than $1 per dollar spent. And spending more time on your makeup won’t do the trick, either: Other studies have shown that women who spend too much time grooming in the morning actually earn less.
Hamermesh’s harsh but realistic advice for the unattractive: “Don’t go into an occupation where looks matter a lot. Don’t be a TV broadcaster; be a radio broadcaster. Don’t be a movie actor. Most important, go into fields that you enjoy, and that you have an advantage in doing. Accentuate your strengths, and try to avoid those things where you are relatively disadvantaged.”
This might sound grim, but accepting that we’re pretty much stuck with our looks should actually be liberating. Instead of spending thousands of dollars — not to mention thousands of hours — agonizing over upping our sexiness, better to spend that time reading more, thinking more, and becoming the kind of employee that anyone would want to hire. There’s more than one way to the top. After all, is your boss a stone-cold fox?