Book Reviews: In the Eye of The Beholder?

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Hamermesh, Daniel S. Beauty pays : why attractive people are more successful. Princeton University Press, 2011.

Mears, Ashley. Pricing beauty : the making of a fashion model. University of California Press, 2011.

On summer breaks while in college, I worked in the Computer Operations Department at Indiana National Bank.  The head of the department was a smart and personable man, who was respected by all who knew him.  His secretary told me that he could never be promoted at the bank because he was unattractive.

That was the early 70’s, and much has changed since that time.  But even today, attractive people are more successful.  Economist Daniel Hamermesh shows in Beauty Pays that attractive people are more likely to be employed, to receive higher salaries and to negotiate loans with better terms. Using an economic approach, he proves that being in the top third in looks in America generates a 5% premium in earnings.  And surprisingly, cosmetic procedures to improve attractiveness make little difference in perceived beauty.

Author Hamermesh argues that employers are rational to favor attractive employees because looks are part of the goods and services sold to customers, who unconsciously discriminate against bad-looking people and do not want to pay as much for associated products and services.   Perhaps even more unfairly, beautiful people are also happier than less attractive individuals.   In the end Hamermesh concludes that while differences in beauty have large impacts, bad looks can be partially overcome through actions, for example by avoiding careers that are influenced by attractiveness, such as acting and modeling.

The modeling business is the topic of Pricing Beauty by Ashley Mears, former model and current faculty member at Boston University.  She demonstrates that models’ looks are a cultural product like art, with a value that is fluid and unpredictable.   She explains why some cultural objects succeed while thousands of competitors fail. In modeling, bookers, clients and models themselves cannot articulate what is the “special quality” that they are seeking in a supermodel.  Author Mears shows that in the fashion market, the players watch each other and the special quality is formed among the ongoing negotiations.  Value is formed through the relationships among the producers.

Both of these books are academic works yet quite readable.  Recommended.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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