Beautiful People Are Happier, Economists Find

March 29, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — Good-looking people are generally happier than their plain looking or unattractive counterparts, largely because of the higher salaries, other economic benefits and more successful spouses that come with beauty, according to new research from economists at The University of Texas at Austin.

This holds true for both men and women and across different cultures, authors Daniel Hamermesh and Jason Abrevaya report in their paper "'Beauty is the Promise of Happiness'?," [PDF] which they are releasing to economists this week. The paper is posted at [PDF], the Web site for the German-based Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

"Personal beauty raises happiness," says Hamermesh. "The majority of beauty's effect on happiness works through its impact on economic outcomes."

In previous research, Hamermesh has established that better-looking people generally earn more money and marry better-looking and higher earning spouses than others. His upcoming work, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful, will be released this summer by Princeton University Press.

The current study suggests these indirect, economic benefits account for at least half of the additional happiness that good-looking people report. Beauty affects women's happiness more directly than men's.

The findings come as some political leaders and economists advocate for countries to begin measuring national happiness alongside their economic productivity. The authors suggest that may not be a worthwhile measurement.

"While there are many good reasons to avoid combining gross domestic product measures with measures of subjective well being," they write, "our discussion showing the importance of this one, essentially immutable determinant of happiness (beauty) suggests that focusing on creating a happier society may not be fruitful."

The economists analyzed data from five surveys conducted by social scientists in the U.S., Canada, Germany and Britain. These surveys asked more than 25,000 thousand participants about their levels of happiness and also either required an interviewer to rate participants' attractiveness or evaluate their beauty from their pictures.

The top 15 percent of people ranked by looks are over 10 percent happier than people ranked in the bottom 10 percent of looks, researchers say.

For more information, contact: Gary Susswein, Office of the President, 512-471-4945; Daniel Hamermesh, 512-475-8526; Jason Abrevaya, 512-475-8527.

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13 Comments to "Beautiful People Are Happier, Economists Find"

1.  C Trevor said on March 29, 2011

"our discussion showing the importance of this one, essentially immutable determinant of happiness (beauty) suggests that focusing on creating a happier society may not be fruitful."

How has it been determined that this determinant is immutable? Perhaps beauty is fundamentally immutable, perhaps not. But it seems highly likely that one's relationship with one's own physical attractiveness is NOT immutable, nor is it necessarily so that behavioral norms formed in reaction to others' beauty aren't fungible.

2.  Tanya said on March 29, 2011

It could be the other way around. People who are happy and successful look prettier because of these two reasons. They reflect their happiness looking more attractive. While unhappy people do not care as much about their look or health.

3.  How To Live Happily said on March 30, 2011

One thing this article fails to mention is the fact that dressing up, makeup and plastic surgery didn't lead to more success. I believe that this is a very important detail. Here's why:

Your success can be influenced by:
- the way people accept you, and
- your mindset: the way you think and the choices you make.

It's easy to assume that looks do have an effect on the way people accept you, and a lazy thinker would stop there.

But how about attitude? How about mindset?
While there is a correlation between looks and success and happiness, I tend to believe that most people assume the causality backwards: good looks should cause happiness.

If this was the whole picture, makeup and plastic surgery would be having a much bigger influence. Why don't they?

I tend to subscribe to another model: people who were born good-looking have success owing to their positive attitude.

If you grew up feeling ugly, dressing up, makeup and plastic surgery don't free you of your emotional baggage. They don't change the way you think. They don't change the choices you make, neither the results you get.

Beautiful people on the other hand, from early age developed the belief that they are worthy of achieving more. They made the better choices - and got the results.

I dare to speculate that there are people who don't fit the usual standards beauty "standards", but grew up in loving environments - and ended up successful.

There are probably also good-looking people, who grew up in traumatizing environments - and ended up as failures.

Can you scientists test this?

4.  K Ice said on March 31, 2011

Maybe something to use in you or Jonathan's classes?

5.  dorothy dreux said on March 31, 2011

I would guess that it is more one's own perception that would set the tone. On the days that I feel pretty, I have more fun, and am happier. I attract more attention from other people to me.

If I'm sad, or depressed, the attention is less. I don't feel as good in my pretty clothes, am less ougoing and inviting of attention.

I never lacked for dates, or popularity, have had reationships with exraordinary men, and have had great, wel paying jobs. Most of the men attracted to me even now, are just as phenomenol, just a lot older. It's the great jobs that are scarce for elderly ladies.

6.  Jay Wiltshire said on March 31, 2011

Only 10% happier? Doesn't seem statistically significant.

7.  Steve said on March 31, 2011

I suspect the dynamic as work here is not so simple as it first appears. There is probably an expectation, reinforced from ones earliest youth, that a child of beautiful appearance will also succeed in life. This is no doubt reinforced by parents and peers. People due tend, by and large, to rise to others expectations, and success begets success. If one was born of more plain appearance, the unspoken (or perhaps even verbalized) cues one will receive from parents, relatives and peers is that you will have to struggle and things will not come easily to you. This in turn leads to lower self esteem with all the challenges inherent to it. Of course, all these are generalizations and exceptions to the rule abound.

8.  Sundar said on March 31, 2011

Come on now. Stop questioning the study. That just raises doubts about your beauty index, which by the way is measured by a linear regressive model.

9.  Bella Noche said on March 31, 2011

I agree that both a positive attitude and innate "beauty" or good looks are correlated. There must be some truth, however, to this since actually, the demand for cosmetic surgery is up even in this down economy! I should know as my spouse is a pl. surgeon. And the patients are not only young 20 year olds needing augmentation---there are any increasing number of middle-aged people wanting to look younger and better to compete in the job market. If you don't believe it, look at the Am. Society of Plastic Surgeon's lastest reports! And it is much more mainstream as non-celebrities find they can improve their looks just like the stars always did.

10.  John said on March 31, 2011

This seems to be the kind of "research" that the consultants to the Board of Regents recommended for elimination to save money. So called common sense is obviously not common at all.

11.  Bruce said on March 31, 2011

If, in fact, so-called "beautiful people" tend to be happier it is because of the disproportionate amount of support and deference, either financial or psychological, of which they are privy as a result of living and working in a society to places way, way too much emphasis on appearances. We live in a highly prejudicial society whose priorities are grossly misaligned.

12.  How To Live Happily said on March 31, 2011

According to the study, plastic surgery, makeup and clothes don't contribute to success and happiness.

13.  Nancy said on April 4, 2011

This is the most ridiculous study I think I have ever heard of. Has anyone seen a picture of Bill Gates recently? He is certainly not in the beautiful people group. He got where he was because of his attitude, his intelligence and his drive, How about Woody Allen? Would anyone call him beautiful? In fact just take a look at pictures of some of the most successful people in the world and you will find that many of them are not in the "beautiful people" group. Was Hitler beautiful?

Also beauty is most certainly in the eye of the beholder. I would like to know who the judges were and how they made their beauty decision.

Five surveys does not make a very believable study. You need much more data and more studies in order to come to a decent research conclusion. There is much excellent research being done at the University. It is too bad that such a worthless research study as the one above should get the publicity.