Beauty, Job Tasks, and Wages: A New Conclusion about Employer Taste-Based Discrimination
We use novel data from the Berea Panel Study to reexamine the labor market mechanisms generating the beauty wage premium. We find that the beauty premium varies widely across jobs with different task requirements. Specifically, in jobs where existing research such as Hamermesh and Biddle (1994) has posited that attractiveness is plausibly a productivity enhancing attribute—those that require substantial amounts of interpersonal interaction—a large beauty premium exists. In contrast, in jobs where attractiveness seems unlikely to truly enhance productivity—jobs that require working with information and data—there is no beauty premium. This stark variation in the beauty premium across jobs is inconsistent with the employer-based discrimination explanation for the beauty premium, because this theory predicts that all jobs will favor attractive workers. Our approach is made possible by unique longitudinal task data, which was collected to address the concern that measurement error in variables describing the importance of interpersonal tasks would tend to bias results towards finding a primary role for employer taste-based discrimination. As such, it is perhaps not surprising that our conclusions about the importance of employer taste-based discrimination are in stark contrast to all previous research that has utilized a similar conceptual approach.
We would like to thank Jonathan Williams, seminar participants at Arizona State, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Virginia for helpful comments, and Lori Scafidi for her work as data manager. The project was made possible by funding from The National Science Foundation, The Mellon Foundation, The Spencer Foundation, the SSHRC, and the Center for Human Capital and Productivity. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Ralph Stinebrickner & Todd Stinebrickner & Paul Sullivan, 2019. "Beauty, Job Tasks, and Wages: A New Conclusion about Employer Taste-Based Discrimination," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 101(4), pages 602-615, October. citation courtesy of
Ralph Stinebrickner & Todd Stinebrickner & Paul Sullivan, 2019. "Beauty, Job Tasks, and Wages: A New Conclusion about Employer Taste-Based Discrimination," The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol 101(4), pages 602-615.