Physical Attractiveness and its Effects on Social Treatment and Inequality

25 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2009

See all articles by Angel Wang

Angel Wang

Carnegie Mellon University

Date Written: April 7, 2009


Physical attractiveness has always played a role in how people are treated in a society. In its extreme sense, those who are the “best looking” are provided opportunities to exploit their features, in careers like acting and modeling. But what is the extent of how much attractiveness can affect everyday life? Studies suggest it can bias the way we are treated in the workplace, in school, in court, and in our personal lives like how much a person is paid attention to in their social circle, and the way they are treated in romantic relationships.

The questions I would like to answer are broad and may be different depending on the sources. To break down my research, I will first attempt to study how physical attractiveness is measured. From my readings so far, many have studied facial symmetry, length of the nose, height, and in women especially, their body mass index and hip-to-waist ratio. Age, race and gender also seem to affect who someone thinks is attractive. For example, a male’s perception of female attractiveness sometimes differs from a female’s, and an ideal body shape and weight is different between African Americans and Caucasians.

Next I will investigate some of the most important aspects of our lives that are affected because of our looks. Studies have suggested more attractive people not only more likely to find employment, but they also earn higher incomes and may move up the career ladder more easily. It is also theorized that attractive people are simply thought of as being more intellectually competent. Disparities in compensation have been studied closely, with one study examining the influence of gender and attractiveness in ultimatum games.

Starting in school, a teacher forms expectations based on how attractive a child is and in turn the child's behavior will be shaped. In a study where young children rated popularity among their peers, the unattractive kids were less popular. In a group of friends, an attractive person will have more influence on and respect from the others, and this pattern may be more apparent in female groups; In one study, an opinion made by an attractive female was more likely to be agreed upon than when made by a female less attractive. When making marriage choices, attractiveness and education play important roles, but the degree of their importance are different between genders.

The question of how physical features will influence human behavior, interaction and attitude is intriguing and important. The answers can play a significant role in explaining inequality and discrimination in every society, but especially why inequality is so prevalent in America.

Keywords: physical attractiveness, social treatment, equality, inequality

Suggested Citation

Wang, Angel, Physical Attractiveness and its Effects on Social Treatment and Inequality (April 7, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Angel Wang (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

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