Beauty, Productivity and Discrimination: Lawyers' Looks and Lucre

Jeff E. Biddle, Daniel S. Hamermesh

NBER Working Paper No. 5366 (Also Reprint No. r2183)
Issued in November 1995
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

We propose several models in which an ascriptive characteristic generates earnings differentials and is sorted across sectors. The general approach shows how to distinguish the ultimate sources of labor-market returns to such characteristics; the specific example uses longitudinal data on a large sample of attorneys who graduated from one law school. Beauty is measured by ratings of their matriculation photographs. 1) Better-looking attorneys who graduated in the 1970s earned more after 5 years of practice than their worse- looking classmates, other things equal, an effect that grew even larger by the fifteenth year of practice. There is no impact of beauty on earnings among 1980s graduates. 2) Attorneys in the private sector are better-looking than those in the public sector, with the differences rising as workers sort across sector based on their beauty. 3) Male attorneys' probability of attaining an early partnership rises with beauty. The results support a theory of dynamic sorting and the role of customer behavior. We cannot determine whether this is because clients discriminate or because better-looking lawyers are able to obtain greater pecuniary gains for their clients.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5366

Published: Biddle, Jeff E. and Daniel S. Hamermesh. "Beauty, Productivity, And Discrimination: Lawyers' Looks And Lucre," Journal of Labor Economics, 1998, v16(1,Jan), 172-201. citation courtesy of

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