Under the Hood

Should Women Put More Time Into Getting Ready? Attractive, Well-Groomed Women Reap Bigger Salaries

Applying Makeup
Applying makeup may help women get an increase in salary. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

Why do women spend more time primping and prepping every morning and before a night out than men do? Because it yields a greater payoff for women than it does for men. A new study published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility reveals that for women, appearance extends far beyond natural beauty and is more dependent on how well groomed they appear. Women seem to be acutely aware of the natural phenomenon of beauty bias, which enables many females to attain better salaries that allow them to primp and preen to their heart’s desire. Waxing and pedicures don’t come cheap, after all.

Sociologist Jaclyn Wong from the University of Chicago teamed up with Andrew Penner from the University of California at Irvine to examine the power that a put-together outfit and fresh manicure have on other’s perceptions of women. For the study, researchers analyzed data from interviews with 14,000 participants who were questioned about their income, job, education, personality, social behaviors, and other characteristics. Interviewers also rated each participant on how attractive and well-groomed they were.

It turns out individuals rated as attractive earned approximately 20 percent more than those who were of average attractiveness. When researchers examined how gender played a part, they found both physically attractive men and women tended to have higher incomes than average-looking individuals. However, the more well groomed a woman was, the more attractive she appeared overall.

“For women, most of the attractiveness advantage comes from being well groomed. For men, only about half of the effect of attractiveness is due to grooming." Wong explained in an interview with the Washington Post. "I think that we more readily judge women, and so this presentation becomes so important to them."

It wasn’t just any kind of grooming that brought the greatest pay offs, however. Applying makeup, styling hair, and having a well-put-together outfit had the biggest influence on how much money women earned. For men, their grooming practices didn’t make as much of a difference. So, while being a well-groomed employee is important for both genders, it’s more important for women.

Researchers explain that there is an underlying discrimination at play. Beauty bias functions on the halo effect, which explains why people think someone who is attractive will also have other positive traits — in other words, it is assumed if a person is beautiful on the outside, they will also be beautiful on the inside. Albeit, Wong and Penner’s findings suggest that attractiveness, especially for women, is more of a behavior instead of a fixed and innate trait.

The idea that humans are susceptible to beauty bias is not new. Previous research has also found that people who make hiring decisions tend to favor physically attractive people for jobs, giving them an advantage that allows them to get ahead in their careers. Research shows that men and women in a position to make hiring decisions and give salary increases are unconsciously influenced by non-job-related factors. This shouldn’t be the case, but good or bad, for women, a little mascara and a nice pair of pumps can go a long way.

Source: Penner AM and Wong JS. Gender and the returns to attractiveness. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. 2016.

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