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Beauty or Brains? How Your Personal Traits Impact Your Salary

Beauty or Brains? How Your Personal Traits Impact Your Salary
Credit: Racorn/Shutterstock

Think your attractive co-worker earns more than you just because of his or her looks? Despite previous reports suggesting that more attractive employees tend to make more money they tend, a new study shows that looks are just one component that can impact earnings.

The new research, which was recently published in Springer's Journal of Business and Psychology, discovered that unattractive employees aren't discriminated against just because of their looks. The study's authors found that health, intelligence and personality traits also factor into the salary equation.

"The association between physical attractiveness and earnings largely disappeared once individual differences in health, intelligence, and personality were statistically controlled," the study's authors wrote.

For the study, researchers analyzed the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health). The data set measured physical attractiveness of all respondents on a five-point scale at four different points in their lives over 13 years. [See Related Story: Why CEO Looks Matter]

The study's authors discovered that workers who were healthier and more intelligent, and those with more conscientious and extroverted, less neurotic personality traits had significantly higher salaries than other employees.

"Physically more attractive workers may earn more, not necessarily because they are more beautiful, but because they are healthier, more intelligent, and have better personality traits conducive to higher earnings," Satoshi Kanazawa, one of the study's authors and a reader in management at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

The researchers also found instances of what they referred to as an "ugliness premium." They discovered that workers who were rated "very unattractive" always made more money than those with "unattractive" ratings. In addition, there were instances in which those rated "very unattractive" also had higher salaries than their average-looking and attractive peers.

Mary Still, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, said there are several reasons their research contradicts previous studies that suggested there was a premium paid to beautiful people. Besides failing to take into account heath, intelligence and personality factors, the past studies also didn't break those with "very unattractive" and "unattractive" ratings into separate groups. Instead, they simply categorized them all as below average.

"Thereby they fail to document the ugliness premium enjoyed by the very unattractive workers," Still said.

Since the data sets studied only surveyed people up to age 29, the researchers admit that the wages of beautiful and less attractive employees may become more unbalanced as time goes on.

"If the beauty premium and ugliness penalty are cumulative throughout working careers, then they may show up in earnings of older workers," the study's authors wrote.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.