August 07, 2005

Not-So-Beautiful People

According to Forbes, some economists now wonder whether employers are doing a very irrational thing when they discriminate against "ugly" or "homely" people. Well, I think so. No, wait, maybe I don't. It sure seems unwise and inefficient for a business to judge all those books by their cover and prefer to hire attractive folks, if that's what they're doing. (Malcolm Gladwell has also noticed that CEOs tend to be taller than average, perhaps due to similar irrational discrimination effects.)

On the other hand, the sad fact is that many attractive people have also very likely grown up with certain, shall we say, desirable personality traits that came about precisely because of their attractiveness. Perhaps they're more likely to be outgoing thanks to playground dynamics decades ago; perhaps they're smarter because teachers showered them with attention in school or they weren't afraid to speak up in class or whatever; perhaps they make connections quicker; very likely they have better self-confidence. You get the point. Picking employees by attractiveness (or height) may not be such a terrible heuristic after all. Meanwhile, economist Erdal Tekin has correlated "low attractiveness ratings" with greater criminal activity. But let's look at the other tail of the bell curve: after a certain point, you may find that overly-attractive people have relied too much on looks and not enough on brains during childhood. Bad news. Either way, any attempts to reverse discrimination against "ugly" people can't start and end with employers.
-- Brad Plumer 5:29 PM || ||