Economist: It really does pay to be pretty

Are you good looking? If so, chances are you'll make money over your lifetime.

"Everybody knows in their heart that better looking people do better overall," said economist Daniel Hamermesh, whose new book "Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful" (Princeton University Press), compiles 20 years of research on the subject. "Most of us want to look better in general, but when you look at the statistics, doing so will bring more money into your household."

Hamermesh found that those who are better looking can earn an average of $250,000 more during their careers than those who are less attractive.

"Of course you have to adjust for education, location, and other factors," said Hamermesh. "But the best-looking top third of the population makes about five percent more money than those who are considered average."

Hamermesh said looks also matter when it comes to getting money from the bank.

"For some reason in the lending markets, better looking people will get better deals on loans," he said. "And they're also more likely to default because they're getting loans they really shouldn't be getting in the first place."

And while money can't buy happiness, Hamermesh said beauty just might.

"More recently the research is showing that if you are a woman and you are pretty, beauty matters more to how women feel about life and how happy they are," he said.

He also said that for women, looks matter when it comes to marriage. "Good-looking women generally marry higher-earning men," he said.

Hamermesh also discovered men are more affected by beauty in the workplace than women, in part because more men were in the studies. "We started this research 20 years ago and not as many women were in the workforce," he said.

Younger adults or adolescents will even choose their friends based on looks, Hamermesh said.

"Those who value how others look will value looks in choosing members of a group to associate with," he said. "The better looking group member can then make the entire group more attractive to outsiders — making it more desirable to more good-looking members."

Hamermesh said if you are a less attractive person, you can still draw on your strengths to increase your earning power.

"What do you if you're not good looking? You take advantage of the things you have," he said. "If you are tenacious, or smart or have a great personality, you work off the things you are good at. Everyone knows an executive who might not be the least bit attractive, yet they are very successful despite this because they are playing on their strengths.

"But men overall still earn more," he said. "It's gotten much closer during the last 30 to 40 years because women are building up experience and experience pays off. But no matter how good-looking someone might be, it won't make for equal earnings. In our lifetime we won't live to see that, unfortunately."

Twitter: @jenweigel

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