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Mary C. Still is an assistant professor of management at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
February 28, 2017

Think only good looks lead to more money? Not so fast, UMass Boston professor says

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  • Boston
Study finds health, intelligence, and positive personality traits also part of salary equation

Assistant Professor of Management Mary C. Still is challenging the long-held notion that good looks are a primary reason why some people make more money than others.

Still and her co-author and former graduate school mentor, Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics, studied a sample from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, taken over a 13-year period. They looked at people who had been rated by evaluators on an attractiveness scale of 1 to 5.

As published this month in the Journal of Business and Psychology, Still and Kanazawa found that very unattractive respondents always earned significantly more than unattractive respondents, and sometimes more than average-looking or attractive respondents. They also identified other factors that played a key role, such as health, intelligence, and what Still calls “positive personality traits” – extroversion, conscientiousness, and emotional stability.

“It could be all kinds of good things are the result of health. When you are healthier, your skin isn’t sallow and you’re not a skeleton and you’re not retaining a lot of fluid and swollen,” Still said.

Still says past studies have masked these other traits, placing all of them under the umbrella of "looks."

“The causality that we’ve been ascribing to this earnings premium is really not coming from what we thought it was coming from. That’s what our research is showing, and is one of the first that we know of to take these things apart,” Still said.

The study has earned global media attention, with United Press International and CBS covering its findings.

As someone who studies gender issues, Still says she hopes is this research will limit the whispers that sometimes start when an attractive woman earns a promotion.

“What this suggests is that she might be physically attractive, but since that goes with intelligence and health, those are things we do select for in the market to reward. Whether or not that’s discriminatory that we select for healthier people or more intelligent people is another question.”

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