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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Study: Beautiful People Earn More

Aired August 28, 2003 - 19:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR: Good lord. Remember that commercial that said don't hate me because I'm beautiful? Well, now you can.
Why? Because new research is finding that good looking people not only get -- well, we all know what they get, but in addition to that they also get bigger paychecks.

Daniel Hamermesh is an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin and he studies the ugly reality about beauty.

Professor, thanks for being with us.

DANIEL HAMERMESH, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN: Thank you.

COOPER: How much more do attractive people get paid for their looks?

HAMERMESH: Anywhere between 10 and 15 percent more of folks in the bottom sixth of distribution of looks. It's a pretty large amount.

COOPER: And do we know why this is?

HAMERMESH: That's the tough question. I mean, I think it's because consumers, other people, coworkers, everybody likes beauty and that also makes the beautiful person be more productive. They can sell more. We've just shown they actually get higher teaching ratings in colleges.

COOPER: Well, that's like adding insult to injury. I mean, not only is it unfair but it's actually effective. And so, like, even a good-looking teacher may be a better teacher than a less attractive teacher?

HAMERMESH: Hard to say if they're a better teacher, whether the kids learn more, but they certainly get higher evaluations from the students in their classes.

COOPER: And I guess some would argue that, you know, maybe students are paying more attention to them and therefore maybe are learning more.

HAMERMESH: I would think that's the case but it's really very hard to demonstrate that. We did find that professors who are better looking had better Attendance in their classes. You've got to be there to learn something, right?

COOPER: I'm not going to ask how attendance in your class is by the way, professor. I'm not going to put you on the spot.

Let me show this picture. It's so fascinating what people perceive as beautiful. We're going to show a picture of Brad Pitt. You know, most people argue there's no doubt about it, very good- looking guy.

What is it about him that people respond to as beautiful? I mean, I've read it's symmetry. What do you mean?

HAMERMESH: In general -- this is not my research, this is research by a psychologist -- it's symmetry of features, which I don't know why we like it. Perhaps we think that's connotes the person is healthy and maybe good for reproduction, which goes way back in our genetics.

COOPER: So we're showing a picture, by the way, of Brad Pitt with sort of this cross over his face. And basically, what, his eyes are symmetrical, his eyes are symmetrical, it's all very sort of balanced?

HAMERMESH: It's very balanced, very symmetric. But not too. It's not perfect. If it's perfect it's bland. There's got to be a little off, otherwise you lose interest.

COOPER: And interesting to note, in your studies, the effect this good-looking effect is actually larger for men than for women.

HAMERMESH: Yes. We found it in the case of how much people make. We found it in the case of evaluations that professors get. I'm not sure why that should be, but it seems quite pervasive in all of our research.

COOPER: I mean, is there any solution to this? I mean, if you're not so attractive does it help to, like, get a better hair cut? You know, dress up in fancy clothes?

HAMERMESH: In my case get hair transplants maybe.

COOPER: Hey, I did not say that.

HAMERMESH: I'm not sure what to do. I think the main thing to remember is there are so many other dimensions that make us productive and cause us to earn more: strength, intelligence, hard work. This is just one of many, many things and one can overcome them in other directions.

COOPER: But it's so fascinating that, I mean, because someone is attractive they are perceived as being, I guess, not only more successful but more effective?

HAMERMESH: They're perceived as being even better people. There's some wonderful lines from a book by Carl Hiassen on this. Yes, and we have this in our genes to react well to people who look good. I'd like to get rid of that. It's really not fair, but that's the way we're hard wired.

COOPER: So good-looking people are perceived to just be better people?

HAMERMESH: That's what all the evidence suggests. They're perceived as being fairer, more honest, all down the road. This is not my research. This is, again, psychological research.

COOPER: Well, it's fascinating, depressing as well, I suppose. But Daniel Hamermesh, appreciate you joining us. It was really good to talk to you.

HAMERMESH: Thank you for having me.

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