It's pretty obvious that being a tall, beautiful person is not usually a disadvantage when it comes to getting what you want—except when it comes to buying pants, of course. But what happens when everyone starts getting taller and more beautiful? Does it still pay to be a little more beautiful and a little taller than everyone else? Not exactly. It turns out you really have to up your game if you want to stick out in comparison—or you have to hope you end up competing for resources against an especially stunted and homely bunch.
Economist Daniel S. Hamermesh has a new paper out in which he dives into just how beautiful and tall one has to be to get an advantage in a given competition. He argues that being marginally better looking than others doesn't give you much of an advantage. Instead, he says it makes a different how much better looking you are than everyone else. So basically the bigger the difference is between the best and worst looking people in a competition, the bigger the best looking person's advantage will be.
To determine this, he analyzed three different data sets: one was taken from people seeking charity donations door-to-door. Another was from a Dutch game show, and the final one covered forty years' worth of the American Economic Association's elections for executive office. Independent raters graded photos of the donation-seekers, the contestants, and the candidates, and Hamermesh used those scores to determine that those people with higher beauty ratings had more success.
So the most attractive people got more donations or won their election, and in the case of the game show the less attractive people were more likely to be tossed during the "expulsion round." But it didn't help them much to be just a tiny bit better looking than the competition. Instead, "absolute beauty" was what mattered. In other words, the amount of difference between the most attractive people and the other peoples' attractiveness was more important. So, if you're going to succeed, you need to be WAY hotter than everyone else. A little bit of hotness won't get you very far.
As long as you're going out of your way to be super beautiful, you might as well be as tall as possible too. Hamermesh looked at tallness as it related to earning power, and he found that being the tallest resulted in higher earning power—even when the rest of the population was tall and getting taller. So even if everyone else is already menacingly tall, you need to be extra menacingly tall to eek out those extra dollars from the relatively shorter people who fear you.
Well, now you know: It's not enough to just be slightly taller and better looking than everyone else. You need to go ALL OUT. Take it to the stratosphere, and you're guaranteed to win at everything and die with the most toys. That is until the next generation of humans evolves into extremely gorgeous supergiants that roam the planet making you look short and homely by comparison and taking all your money and fame. As they famously sing in the Lion King, it's the upward spiral of life.
Beauty, Height and Success [New York Times]
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