[FOUNTAIN]Looking past the superficial for abilities

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[FOUNTAIN]Looking past the superficial for abilities

“Beauty and longevity seldom go together,” a Korean saying puts it: Physical beauty often leads to misfortune. But in reality, some people have both the good looks and luck.
In the United States, scholars have researched the economic value of physical appearance. A team led by an economics professor, Daniel Hamermesh at the University of Texas at Austin, surveyed over 3,600 people for a paper published in 1997. Based on submitted photographs, the team categorized the sample population into three groups, good-looking, average and plain. Actors and models, whose professions require physical beauty, were excluded from the sample. Evaluating appearance was a subjective matter, so the team surveyed as many people as possible over an extended period. Then, the three groups’ wage levels were compared.
Attractive males earned 14 percent more than plain males, on average. The difference was smaller for females, at 9 percent. Regardless of sex, the study concluded that appearance-related wage differences were apparent. Mr. Hamermesh and his team called this a “beauty premium.”
Other studies investigate the correlation between obesity and wages. Susan Averett, another economist, researched wage distribution based on weight in 1996. The statistics showed that obese females earned 12 percent less than average-weight females. For males, the difference was 9 percent. The gap was even larger among married subjects; overweight married women earned 25 percent less than married females of normal weight. The study showed that physical appearance was a deciding factor for wage levels of married American women.
The scholars had no intention of justifying their findings; instead, they wanted to highlight beauty-based discrimination to help do away with it. The studies suggested the danger of prejudice instead of judgments made on the basis of ability.
According to a survey in Korea by an online recruiting service, nearly 10 percent of the 8,675 respondents reported such discrimination; 9 percent of males and 11 percent of females said their appearance had been a reason they did not get a job. The beauty premium might help in getting a job in Korea today, even though we want a society based on ability. Is beauty a talent?


by Nahm Yoon-ho

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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