The Relationship Between Appearance and Career Advancement

On March 22, 2017

Your appearance affects far more than the number of responses you receive on a dating site. Humans have a significant bias in favor of those who are attractive, and this translates into a severe penalty in all areas for the unattractive. Even those who have an average appearance lose out to the beautiful in many respects.

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Your physical appearance, unfortunately, impacts your job prospects, your pay rate and the odds you will be promoted. Let’s examine the relationship between appearance and career advancement.

The Benefits of Being Attractive

Attractive criminals are punished less severely than unattractive ones, while women typically receive less severe penalties than men. Asymmetrical features hurt the impression you make with others.

Attractiveness increases your perceived likeability, competence and trustworthiness. This correlation was found in both genders, but women suffer even greater penalties socially and economically than men. Women face similar financial penalties when overweight and as they age, giving rise to the demands to consider “lookism” a type of discrimination.

The Financial Impact of Being Unattractive

Attractive men earn an average 13% more and an estimated $230,000 more over a lifetime compared to unattractive men, according to the book “Beauty Pays”. Physically attractive men and women earn more than average looking ones, and plain or unattractive ones earn less than those who have an average appearance. This is true in even high paying jobs – average looking NFL quarterbacks earn 12% less than the handsome ones, even when they have equal experience and athletic performance. For college professors, those rated “hot” by college sites earn 6% more than average looking professors. And it isn’t just a matter of how much you are paid on the job. Attractive people are more likely to be hired, especially in a recession, as well. When you are seen as more competent, likeable and capable, you are more likely to be promoted.

Women face a greater penalty than men when it comes to age, too. Even attractive women find it harder to find work at 50 compared to men of the same age and skillsets. This is why older women accounted for more than half of the long term unemployed in 2012. Before the Great Recession, they were only a quarter of the long term unemployed. Employers had their choice of workers and picked the younger women over the older due to the same preferences for young, attractive employees.

What’s the Solution?

One of the easiest methods to significantly improve appearance is by using subtle make up techniques, or you can utilize other methods to improve your appearance. In some extreme cases, cosmetic surgery might be an option. Services like Zwivel allow users to compare cosmetic surgeons in terms of quality, price and services offered to make permanent improvements to their appearance.

Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas at Arlington found that using makeup (assuming you don’t use too much) makes you more likeable and increases the odds strangers will cooperate with you. He says that we conflate looks and a willingness to take care of yourself with a willingness to take care of others. Modest amounts of makeup, dressing presentably and seeming to take care of your appearance will thus help you in the workplace and give you an edge over those who don’t.


It is no secret that appearance has a direct influence on job and career prospects. Fortunately, beauty isn’t the end all be all and simply applying some good fashion sense can be enough to significantly improve your chances for advancement.

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