Study finds that ‘very unattractive’ people make more money

Hands counting us dollars with calculator and digital tablet (iStock)

In Amy Schumer’s new film I Feel Pretty she plays a woman, Renee, who struggles with low self-confidence and views herself as unattractive. It doesn’t help that she works for a cosmetics brand that seems to only employ models. About 20 minutes into the film after wishing to be better looking at a fountain (do those things still work in the wish-delivering department?) she hits her head during spin class the next day and awakes to believe she looks completely different and is absolutely and imperatively attractive (she looks exactly the same.) Well joke’s on you Renee because it turns out people who are deemed very unattractive end up making more money at a younger age, according to a recent study.

A study from the Journal of Business and Psychology of 20,000 young Americans, interviewed the subjects at home at age 16 and then three more times before they turned 29-years-old. The researchers looked at the correlation between attractiveness and income of the participants based on a five-point scale of physical attractiveness from “very unattractive” to “very attractive.”

The “ugliness premium”

Now attractive people are still winning at life as overall there was a positive association between attractiveness and earnings. This is also known as the “beauty premium” and “ugliness penalty” and has been documented widely by economists.  However, those rated as “very unattractive” also saw a positive correlation when it came to money. The VUs (who only made up 1 to 2% of the survey sample) were found to always earn more than the just regular “unattractive” people and sometimes even more than just “average-looking” people and even the “attractive” people.  This is turning previous research on its head as this demonstrates an “ugliness premium.”

The researchers, Satoshi Kanazawa and Mary Still, believe that the reason attractive people earn more is not just because of their looks but what their looks signify. “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, such as being more Conscientious, more Extraverted, and less Neurotic,” Kanazawa said in a press release. The very unattractive people also tested higher in those three categories which contributes to their earnings bump.

However, the “very unattractive” group was quite small which also can throw off results, Daniel Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the Royal Holloway University of London, told CBS News. 

It looks like Snow White will still get the higher salary over the ugly witch in the woods, but she better watch her back. That witch has got personality….and poisoned apples.

This article originally appeared on Ladders, a publication dedicated to breaking news, opinion, analysis and advice at the cutting edge of our changing workplace. For more, sign up for Ladders' newsletter here.