Attractive people are usually at a slight advantage when it comes to getting a job. But a new study finds that for women in traditionally masculine fields, beauty can be a burden.
Attractive women were discriminated against when applying for jobs considered “masculine” and for which appearance was not seen as important to the job, according to a study published in the May/June issue of the Journal of Social Psychology. Such positions included job titles like manager of research and development, director of finance, mechanical engineer and construction supervisor.
“In these professions being attractive was highly detrimental to women,” study author Stefanie Johnson, assistant professor of management at UC Denver Business School, said in a statement. “In every other kind of job, attractive women were preferred. This wasn’t the case with men, which shows that there is still a double standard when it comes to gender.”
According to Johnson, beautiful people enjoy a significant edge in life. They tend to get higher salaries, better performance evaluations, higher levels of admission to college, better voter ratings when running for public office and more favorable judgments in legal trials.
But the advantage doesn’t always hold for women, Johnson found. In one experiment, participants were given 204 photos of university students (all Caucasian and dressed in business clothing) and asked to rate their attractiveness on a scale of one to seven. The participants were then asked to rate how suitable each person in the photographs would be for a series of occupations.
In general, attractive people were judged more suitable for employment, even in jobs in which participants reported that appearance didn’t matter. However, attractive women were deemed less suitable than unattractive women for masculine jobs in which appearance wasn’t important.
In a second study participants were asked to rate candidates for four jobs: prison guard, car salesperson, secretary and social worker. The first two jobs were considered masculine, and the second two, feminine. Appearance was judged to be unimportant for prison guards and social workers, and important for car salespeople and secretaries.
The results showed that attractive women received high ratings for the two feminine jobs and for the car sales job, in which physical appearance was important. But for the prison guard job, a masculine job in which physical attractiveness wasn’t important, pretty women were rated significantly lower. For men, attractiveness was a boon across all job categories.
“One could argue that, under certain conditions, physical appearance may be a legitimate basis for hiring,” Johnson said. “In jobs involving face-to-face client contact, such as sales, more physically attractive applicants could conceivably perform better than those who are less attractive. However, it is important that physical attractiveness is weighed equally for men and women to avoid discrimination against women.”
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