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Should the Less Attractive Receive Additional Benefits?

November 19th, 2011 by 
PK

Why not go for the gold?  I already asked you if lower salaried majors should pay higher rates on student loans and if higher salaried majors should pay higher tuition.  Inspired by a recent post on the Freakonomics blog, I present to you another controversial question for you to ponder:  Should the less attractive receive benefits commensurate with their disadvantages due to their looks?

Perhaps I should explain something: attractive people have it easier.  Fellow blogger Nelson Smith recently wrote an article entitled "Do Good Looking People Have it Easier?" which made the case that good looking people have many advantages in the work place, and life in general.  The article linked in that post gives the basics, but the truth is good looks come with all sorts of benefits which aren't available to the less attractive.  To wit:

Less attractive receive benefits: Tax The Good Looking First... (photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
I'd Tax These Two First... (photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Taller people get paid more. Very thin women (and men towards the middle of the scale - very thin men aren't considered 'attractive') also find work to be higher paying. The final nail in the unattractiveness coffin?  Better looking people are happier.

Occupy Estée Lauder! Less Pay for the Pretty!

Before the top 1% most attractive people start having to fear anything, let's get down to the heart of the matter.  While hard work and motivation can overcome a lot of the disadvantage of a lower than average intelligence, the cure for being less attractive is much more difficult to find.  Increasing height is pretty much out of the question, weight can be manipulated but requires a fair amount of perseverance, and overall attractiveness requires cosmetic tricks (yes, lifestyle changes can help too) or cosmetic surgery.  The truth is, through winning the lottery of birth, there are people in the world with a natural advantage due to their looks.

It's possible that all of these natural advantages are hold-outs from an evolutionary standpoint.  It's often said that men are attracted to looks while females are attracted to power - basically, looks are a marker of reproductive health while power is a sign of the ability to provide for a child.  In Evolutionary Psychology, sex is the key to many human interactions and behaviors (to some Evolutionary Psychologists it is the reason for all animal behaviors).  Is bias towards the more attractive simply a byproduct of natural selection?

Helping the Homely with Cash Infusions

All of this brings us to the book mentioned on Freakonomics - "[amazon-product text="Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful" type="text"]0691140464[/amazon-product]" by Dan Hamermesh.  Professor Hamermesh is an Economist who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.  His book, (I haven't read it yet...) apparently covers many of the things that I just discussed.  It also contains a lot of original research of the type linked to above (click the link after "More attractive people" above).  His point?  Being good looking is a huge advantage in many areas, especially in the workplace and the mate selection 'market'.

Which brings us to the question that I asked earlier...

Should the Less Attractive Receive Benefits?

Assuming you can fairly determine how attractive people are, would there be a stigma against people collecting on their disadvantage?  As Professor Hamermesh states in his Q&A, "[On] average others tend to rate us slightly better than we rate ourselves."  (Side note: One time Mrs. DQYDJ told me that she is a more attractive female than I am a male!)  Even so, would people go to collect?

If you've read my thoughts a fair amount you probably already know how I would answer the question:

  • First - It's impossible to determine an overall level of attractiveness because the definition shifts by area, race, education level, upbringing, age and a whole host of other reasons.
  • Second - I'm more concerned with equality of opportunity than equality of results - as long as people have a chance to overcome disadvantages I'd prefer that we give them a chance.
  • Third - It's a very slippery slope.  Any time you start to try to pull up the bottom it ends up, in the end, with policies pulling down the top.  Sure it was dystopian satire, but am I alone in thinking about Harrison Bergeron here?  In that story a repressive government handicapped anyone with natural advantages - weights for the strong, shackles for the graceful, disruptive electronics for the intelligent, masks for the beautiful... is that a society we'd want to live in?

Anyway, enough about my thoughts; I'm just a grey and blue avatar anyway.  Should the less attractive receive benefits due to their natural disadvantage?  Should the 'good looking people' who are born on third base stop pretending they hit a triple? Discuss!

Don't Quit Your Day Job...

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