If you were of a mind to forgive good-looking people for their freakishly good genetic makeup because you figure you got better brains than they did, don’t. A new study suggests that people rated as more attractive are more likely to get higher grades and to go to college. In fact, the difference between the GPAs of the gorgeous and the unsightly was equivalent to the difference between kids who come from a two-parent or a single parent home. So feel free to hate on.
The kids who were better-looking reported higher levels of teacher attention, more friends and less depression, says one of the study’s authors Rachel Gordon, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. They also went on to become more successful. It’s not exactly clear whether the attention and praise increased a child’s confidence and hence he or she took extra credit classes and felt more emboldened to ask teachers for help, and that led to the higher grades, or whether teachers, like babies—or even (gulp) parents—simply favor attractive faces more.
The findings are part of a forthcoming from the Society for Research on Child Development, which combined statistical analyses of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health and qualitative analyses of a single high school. As part of the longitudinal study, which, starting in the 1990s, followed 9000 adloescents across the U.S into their 30s, interviewers noted whether or not their interviewee was attractive. They also attached GPAs, which were provided by the schools. The new research is based on an analysis of all that data.
Other studies have supported these findings: people shown photos of fetching humans tend to “hear” more warmth from them on them on the phone than people who think they’re talking to an unattractive person; good looking women have an 8% wage bonus for above-average looks and pay a 4% penalty for below-average looks; men get a 4% bonus and 13% penalty. Attractive people also get more call-backs for jobs and are perceived as healthier and more trustworthy.
There is one thing that’s hard to tease out though: do confident and intelligent kids simply seem more attractive to interviewers than introverted or less able students? The researchers only noted the child’s looks at the end of the interview after they had been exposed to the child’s personality. Never forget how attractive people find Henry Kissinger—after they’ve met him. (Anecdotal evidence here.) But there’s other evidence that it’s all about the looks. Gordon says that in another study elementary teachers were given folders of children’s work and photos of the kids and had better expectations for the good-looking ones, and for elementary kids, expectations are half the battle. She says she’d like to do a similar study among high school teachers.
Interestingly, the recent study found that the difference in grades between the hideous and the merely average looking was negligible.”The ill effect of having poorer mental health and fewer friends because of below average looks was completely neutralized by the other consequences of their below-average looks,” says a briefing report on the paper, which was commissioned by the Council on Contemporary Families. “They were less likely to be sexually active or involved in the heavy drinking party scene.” (And, presumably, used that time for studying.)
In other words, those of you who consider yourself particularly unappealing, rejoice. As far as academic success goes, you’re no worse off than average-looking people.