025: Dan Hamermesh on the Economics of Beauty: Attractive People Are More Successful
Dan Hamermesh is Professor in Economics at the Royal Holloway University of London and at the University of Texas at Austin. Dan researches the economics of beauty. He received his Ph.D. from Yale and has since taught at Princeton, at Michigan State, and at Texas. He has held visiting professorships at universities in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia, and lectured at almost 250 universities in 48 states and 33 foreign countries. His research, published in nearly 100 refereed papers in scholarly journals, has concentrated on time use, labor demand, discrimination, academic labor markets and unusual applications of labor economics (to beauty, sleep and suicide).
Professor Hamermesh has received many notable and distinguished honors and awards in recognition for his contribution to the field of economics. These include the Mincer Award and the IZA Prize in Labor Economics, the John R. Commons Award, as well as many teaching of excellence awards.
Daniel’s teaching include Microeconomics; Macroeconomics; Econometrics; Economics of Labor and Economics of Life.
Daniel is the author of many books including Demand for Labor: The Neglected Side of the Market, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, The Economics of Time Use and Economics Is Everywhere. He is also a regular contributor to the Freakonomics blog and podcast.
In this interview, Dan mentions and discusses:
Speculation, inter-temporal maximisation, labor economics, incentives, wages, welfare payments, comparative advantage and externalities.
In this interview, Dan mentions:
John Maynard Keynes, Gary Becker, Gregg Lewis, Robert Lucas and Michael Lewis.
Gary Becker and Gregg Lewis
Gregg Lewis had a concern about data – about doing it right, making sure you were right. That’s a crucial thing. One has to take data seriously – Dan Hamermesh.
Do what you think you’ll enjoy, because if you think you’ll enjoy it the odds are pretty good you’ll do well at it. You’ll be motivated to work hard and to succeed – Dan Hamermesh
- how economics can be used beyond the theoretical framework we see in textbooks.
- why we should think about economics in things we see or do in the real world.
- how students of economics can inspire their professors in a two-way mutual learning process.
- how economics is everywhere – we just need to think, see and interpret.
- how economics is enjoying a revival in reaching to mass audiences.
- the benefits of economics books like Freakonomics, Beauty Pays, Dollars and Sex and Happiness By Design.
- why we should read interesting books on economics.
- if happiness is related to how beautiful or attractive you are.
- why better-looking men are happier.
- how to recognise if you are beautiful.
- what good-looking attorneys, prostitutes, politicians and NFL quarter-backs have in common.
- if economists should be studying the effects of being attractive and ugly.
- if people have an increased need to become beautiful.
- whether increased spending on cosmetics, hair and clothing by women will have a pay-off in the labor market.
- if plastic surgery to alter beauty results in higher earnings.
- about the disability benefits available to obese people.
- if an obese person is perceived to be less beautiful than a slim person.
- if there is a relationship between ugliness and where a person lives.
- why Dan was interested in studying the economic impact of beauty.
- which economic markets show evidence of the impact of beauty.
- how Dan first met his wife of 42 years.
- what Dan thinks of Abercrombie and Fitch’s ‘six-pack’ hiring policy.
- if being attractive prohibits opportunities in the labor market.
- if you should work in the private or public sector if you are good-looking.
- how to identify an externality on the side-walk.
- why you should do what you’ll enjoy rather than chasing the money.
Why Attractive People Are Happier and Economically Better-Off.
Attractive people have been found to be happier than not-so-good-looking people. Better-looking men receive higher incomes, which make them happier overall. Attractive women are also happier, but their happiness is more direct in that their happiness is the result of knowing that they are good-looking. Attractive women do receive higher incomes but this is not a direct link to their happiness as it is for men.
“The beauty itself is directly more salient to them than it was for men, even though the overall effect was identical for both genders” – Dan Hamermesh.
How someone realises if they are attractive or not is due to the reinforcement by other people in making you aware whether you are good-looking or ugly. “Better-looking babies are treated better by their parents and by other people. Better-looking 5 year olds are treated better in kindergarten than ugly ones. When you’re chosen for teams or go out in High School, the better-looking people do better. And they also, given even the amount of education they attained, they’ll do better in the labor market. They’ll get better jobs, make higher pay, even within the same occupation” (Dan Hamermesh). Good-looking attorneys, prostitutes, politicians and National Football League quarter-backs make higher pay than their uglier colleagues.
In the labor market, the top one-third of people who are considered good-looking will earn 10 to 12% more in income independent of any differences that might exist between them and those not considered good-looking.
A woman’s increased spending on cosmetics, hair and clothing will not increase her perceived beauty and will also have a minimal pay-off on the labor market for her. Plastic surgery for cosmetic reasons does not have a benefit in terms of increasing earnings in the labor market. You do it to feel good. It’s not an economic investment, it’s a feel-good investment.
“Unless a person is morbidly obese, people do not view him or her as being any uglier than anybody else, all things taking together” – Dan Hammermesh.
Does Location Determine Whether You Are Beautiful or Ugly?
I ask Dan whether a person’s good looks are determined by the area in which they live. The reason I ask this is based on our earlier discussion on why attractive people typically earn a higher income. It can be fair to suggest that cities or regions that pay more would consequently attract good-looking people.
Dan states that “if you’re a good-looking person, you’re going to flock to an area where your looks pay off more. And if you’re a bad-looking person, you might want to go away from an area where looks pay off. In the UK, where people who were born in Scotland and Wales, if they’re good-looking, are more likely to migrate to South-East England (London) than other people”.
Also, “people who were born in South-East England (London) who are bad-looking appear to move to outlying areas where their looks aren’t so important”.
“Looks not only affects where we live in terms of what we make, but where we choose to live in terms of where we spend out adult lives. You’ll go where you get the biggest bang for your buck or, in this case, the biggest pounds for your beauty.”
Economic Markets Where Beauty and Attractiveness Are Present:
- Labor Markets: Higher wages and better conditions.
- Marriage Markets: A good-looking woman will attract a man who earns more.
- Market on Unsecured Loans: Attractive people are more likely to get a loan and on better terms.
- Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful by Dan Hamermesh.
- Economics Is Everywhere by Dan Hamermesh.
- The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times And Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers by Robert L. Heilbroner.
- Moneyball by Michael Lewis.
Where To Find Dan Hamermesh:
- Facebook: BeautyPays