7 Ways Your Looks Affect Your Pay

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It might not be fair, but the way you look plays a part in how much you’re paid.

Looks Do Matter

Discriminating against people based on their physical appearance is wrong -- both morally, and in many cases, legally speaking. The way you look usually has no bearing on how you’ll perform in your job, and in a perfect world everyone would be judged solely on his/her merits.

But the harsh reality is this isn't a perfect world, and discrimination -- whether intentional or inadvertent -- still plays a role in the workplace. And while it should never be condoned, job seekers and employees need to be aware of how discriminatory practices regarding age, race, sex, and physical appearance can affect compensation.

Unfortunately, multiple studies show that the amount someone is paid -- and in some cases whether or not they get the job -- is based, at least in part, on how they look. Obviously we’re not suggesting plastic surgery simply to get a job or a higher paycheck, but knowing about and identifying existing prejudices is crucial to helping you understand what you’re up against while job hunting or looking for a raise/promotion, so you can know what to expect.

7. Height

Tall people get paid more money. Although this might seem like it shouldn't make sense anywhere other than on a basketball court, it seems the taller you are, the more you can expect to pad your wallet.

A study by Timothy Judge at the University of Florida found that for every inch of height, a tall worker can expect to earn an extra $789 per year. That means two equally skilled coworkers would have a pay differential of nearly $5,000 per year, simply because of a 6-inch height differential, according to the study.

Meanwhile, a study by Princeton economists Anne Case and Christina Paxson indicates there could be a good reason for the pay gap – tall people are smarter. Taller children score better on tests even before formal schooling begins, according to the study, and the tall adults go on to take higher-paying jobs that require greater intelligence.

6. Weight

If you’re trying to maximize your paycheck by living large at the office, you’ll have to keep that strictly to a metaphorical sense.

Obese workers (those who have a Body Mass Index of more than 30) are paid less than normal-weight coworkers at a rate of $8,666 a year for obese women, and $4,772 a year for obese men, according to a George Washington University study that cited data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 2004. And other studies indicate obese women are even more likely to be discriminated against when it comes to pay, hiring and raises.

A study reported in the International Journal of Obesity described an experiment in which people were shown pictures of job applicants, as well as resumes, and asked to score them on suitability, starting salary, and employability. What the test subjects didn’t realize, however, is the pictures they were being shown were actually of the same person, but before and after bariatric weight loss surgery. Overwhelmingly, the thinner candidates were chosen for the job and with higher starting salaries than the heavier applicants.

5. Hair Color

You’ve no doubt heard that blondes have more fun. Well, it turns out they also have more in their paychecks.

A 2010 study from the Queensland University of Technology studied 13,000 Caucasian women and found blondes earn more than 7 percent more than female employees with any other hair color. The study said the pay bump is equivalent to the boost an employee would generally see from one entire year of additional education.

As a bonus, the study also found blonde women marry men who earn an average of 6 percent more than husbands of women with other hair colors.

4. Physique

Want to pump up your salary? Try lifting some weights.

According to a study in the Journal of Labor Research, workers who exercise regularly earn 9 percent more on average than employees who don’t work out. The study from Cleveland State University claims people who exercise three or more times a week earn an average of $80 a week more than their slothful coworkers.

Even those who work out just one to three times a week see a slight earning advantage over their sedentary peers, making slightly more than 5 percent in additional pay, according to the study.

3. Make-up

As with most things in life, moderation is the key. And wearing make-up is no different.

Not only do people judge beauty based on how much make-up a woman is wearing, make-up adorned women also rank higher in competence and trustworthiness, according to a study funded by Procter & Gamble, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston University, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. A study in the American Economic Review said women who wear make-up can earn more than 30 percent more in pay than non make-up wearing workers.

Also, BusinessInsider.com quoted a study in the London Times reporting "64 percent of directors said that women who wore make-up looked more professional."

2. General Attractiveness

If people think you’re good-looking, they’ll pay you more money.

So says a Yale University study from Daniel Hamermesh, which finds employers pay a beauty premium to attractive employees. The beautiful workers earn an average of roughly 5 percent more, while unattractive employees can miss out on up to almost 9 percent, according to the study.

"Effects for men are at least as great as for women. Unattractive women have lower labor-force participation rates, and marry men with less human capital," the study concludes.

1. Being "Too Pretty"

Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Generally speaking, attractive people make out when it comes to salary and hiring. But what about the exceedingly attractive among us (champagne problems, right?)? If you’re an attractive man, don’t sweat it because you always enjoy an advantage, according to a 2010 study that appeared in the Journal of Social Psychology. However, women rated as very attractive face discrimination when applying to "masculine" jobs.

In another experiment that was part of a Newsweek survey of more than 200 hiring managers, people were given a list of jobs and 110 photos of candidates (split evenly between men and women). When test subjects were asked to rank suitability for each job, the men were overwhelmingly given preference for jobs such as director of security, manager of research and development, director of finance, mechanical engineer and construction supervisor. The women were relegated to more traditional (and lower-paying) female roles such as receptionist, proving beauty can be a beast at times.

Looks Matter, But Performance Matters More

Hiring managers are human. Some of them don’t even realize they’re engaging in discriminatory practices by judging physical appearance, and while that’s no excuse it is something you should know as a job seeker or employee.

As always, place as much emphasis as possible on your strengths, skills and potential to help the company. Looks might work to someone’s advantage initially, but attractiveness alone is not enough. More often than not, hard work and results will be the difference-maker, so focus on the positive effect you have on the bottom line to make yourself indispensable and irresistible as an employee.

And if you are turned away because of your looks, chances are you’ll be better for it to avoid working for an organization that values physical appearance over job performance.

Recommended Tips

Black or white, blonde or brunette – the one thing we all have in common is that we want to be paid fairly. Whether you're interviewing for a new job or trying for a raise/promotion, you need to make sure you negotiate an adequate salary and benefits. And Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.

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