A recent study by Bradley J. Ruffle and Ze’ev Shtudiner, economics researchers from Israel, has found that although ultimately more attractive men and women earn respectively 9% and 14% more than their plainer colleagues, ‘beauty discrimination’ manifests itself much earlier in the recruitment process with somewhat surprising results.
Are good-looking people more employable?
The experiment in Are Good-Looking People More Employable? comprised sending pairs of CVs to hundreds of job vacancy adverts. The applications were almost identical, but one would have a photo of the ‘candidate’ attached and the other wouldn’t. The experiment measured the success rate of the applications based on the physical appearance of the candidates.
Ruffle and Shtudiner sent 5312 CVs to 2656 job adverts between July 2008 and January 2010. The ads covered ten different fields of work, including banking, finance, sales and industrial engineering. 73% of them were office jobs which did not require interaction with members of the public, so one would assume that physical appearance wouldn’t have any effect on a candidate’s employability.
You really can look the part
The results reveal that there is a clear correlation between physical appearance and employability; and is a troubling demonstration that even in a professional environment men and women are judged by bodily attributes. Handsome men are more employable than ugly or pictureless males, at respectively 19.9%, 13.7% and 9.2%. Ruffle and Shtudiner refer to this as a ‘beauty premium,’ in which unattractive men must send off 11 applications to illicit a positive response compared to 5 from a good-looking male. However, the inverse is true for women in the survey: the female group which received the lowest number of call-backs was attractive women at 12.8%, described as a ‘beauty penalty.’ Unattractive females received more (13.6%) whilst pictureless women had the greatest response from recruiters at 16.6%.
The eye of the beholder
Ruffle and Shtudiner believe that the root of the inequality lies in the HR departments involved in the study: 93% of recruiters were women, with an average age of 29, 67% of them single. According to the study, female jealousy is the cause of the low response rate for attractive female candidates as female HR workers screening applications do not want sexual rivals for male attention.
It is telling that if it is an agency recruiting for a role rather than a company advertising directly to candidates, the response rate for attractive females rises to be level with that of plainer women, around 13%. This would suggest that the agency workers are less threatened by the attractive women they are recruiting as they are not going to be working with them.
Discrimination in the UK? Surely not!
Luckily in the UK we’re spared from this beauty business. As it’s unusual to be asked to attach a photo to an application form; unless you want to work in American Apparel or somewhere else where you need to be a smokin’ hottie, your initial application can’t be affected by your looks. Once invited to interview, however…..