Don't worry about being 'very unattractive' — you could be richer for it, study says

A study published in the Journal of Business Psychology found that "very unattractive" people always make more money than their "unattractive" coworkers — and often make more money than "average" and "attractive" coworkers, too.
A study published in the Journal of Business Psychology found that "very unattractive" people always make more money than their "unattractive" coworkers — and often make more money than "average" and "attractive" coworkers, too. Creative Commons

If looks aren't your strong suit, then maybe you should aim to be as ugly as possible.

That's because "very unattractive" people earn "significantly" more money than their "unattractive" peers, according to a new study published in the Journal of Business Psychology. It also found that it's not uncommon for those "very unattractive" people to rake in more dough compared with those who are "average" and "attractive."

These findings held up when considering for intelligence, health and other personality traits such as being extroverted and conscientious, the study said.

For their study, Satoshi Kanazawa, from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Mary Still, from the University of Massachusetts in Boston, examined data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health. That 1994 survey had scientists rate the attractiveness of 16-year-old participants and then interview them again three more times by age 29 to rate their physical looks and determine their income.

By age 29, the most ugly participants were often bringing home the most cash.

The findings — that being "very unattractive" seems to be a boon for a bigger paycheck — fly in the face of the so-called "beauty premium." That theory posits that attractive people are more likely to get a bigger paycheck because of their looks.

A 2006 study from economists at Wesleyan University found that when judging by resumes, prospective employers made estimates of productivity that did not correlate with the applicant's attractiveness — because they couldn't see them. That changed once they met in person, those researchers found, and there was a clear correlation between looks and expectations of work quality.

The researchers posited that attractive people are also self-confident, which helps them excel in the business world.

So why did the study from Kanazawa and Still find that being on the opposite end of the attractiveness spectrum can also prove lucrative?

They wrote that it could be because many studies often lump "very unattractive" and "unattractive" into one category — thus leading researchers to miss the nuance between people of varying ugliness. Another possibility is that researchers didn't control for different personality types.

Kanazawa and Still and wrote that while it seems good-looking people make more money, "it's not because they are beautiful."

Instead, it's "because they are healthier, more intelligent, and have better (more Conscientious and Extraverted, and less Neurotic) personality," they wrote. Because of these findings, they concluded that the "beauty premium" and "ugliness penalty" aren't exactly what we think they are.

In fact, there may be an "ugliness premium" at play as well, the study concluded.

"The apparent beauty premium and ugliness penalty may be a function of unmeasured traits correlated with physical attractiveness, such as health, intelligence, and personality."

Alex Fradera, a staff writer at The British Psychological Study, posited that perhaps the "very unattractive" participants had dedicated themselves to working in a certain career field, in turn giving them a higher probability of working up the company ladder.

But she also said more research is needed to confirm these findings.

"The very unattractive group was small, as extremes are in any population – just a few hundred participants – so we would want to investigate this again to see if these effects hold," she wrote. "For now, this research challenges assumptions about the potential for those born without conventional looks to find uncommon success."