Throughout recorded history, men and women—particularly the latter—have sought ways to enhance their appearance. Egyptians used eye shadow and painted their faces. So did the Greeks and Romans. Tattoos and body piercings have been used by people in many cultures for centuries. The goals of these efforts include finding a suitable mate, increasing self-confidence and signaling wealth or power.
But as women slowly gain equal footing in the workplace, it’s appropriate to ask whether such efforts have a positive impact on their careers. Recently, economists Bradley Ruffle and Ze’ev Shtudiner examined one aspect of this matter by designing a study to assess the impact of physical attractiveness on success during a job search.
Their study revealed that good looks help men who are looking to secure a job interview, but they have a negative impact on women who are after the same thing.
To reach these conclusions, the scientists distributed 5,000 résumés to 2,600 Israeli employers that had advertised job openings. They sent 2 nearly identical résumés to each employer; one contained a photograph of the job-seeker, and the other did not. In some cases, the photo showed an attractive person; in others, the photo showed a plain-looking person.
Judgments about the attractiveness of the people in the photos were made by men and women that were not affiliated with the investigators. The photos included pictures of people with apparently mixed ethnic backgrounds to remove any possible effects of racial bias.
The employers reached-out to request an interview from 14.5% of the job candidates, overall. Among the male candidates, 13.7% with plain-looking photos, and 19.9% with attractive photos were contacted to set-up an interview. Only 9.2% of those whose resumes contained no photo were called-in.
The results were strikingly different for women, in whom 16.6% who didn’t send a photo were invited for an interview, as compared with 13.6% of those who had submitted a plain-looking photo and 12.8% of those who had submitted an attractive-looking photo.
Interestingly, none of these differences was noted when employment agencies were responsible for deciding who would be interviewed. The differences were present only when the applications were sent directly to the hiring company.
A post-study analysis revealed that in companies that did their own hiring, young, typically single women were responsible for screening those resumes. When questioned by the scientists, these company-based screeners indicated that when a man included a photo, it showed confidence and helped assure that the candidate was “presentable.” When a woman did the same, the screeners perceived it negatively; the woman was “attempting to market herself via her appearance.”
The economists concluded that company-based personnel responsible for hiring new staff appear to discriminate against attractive women and that “female jealousy” was the most likely explanation for this.
“Our results show that beauty distorts the hiring process,” the researchers wrote. “Suitably qualified attractive women and plain men and women may be eliminated early on from the selection process.”
The write-up appears on the Social Science Research Network.