New research from the American Psychological Association suggests that attractive people may be discriminated against when they apply for lower-level jobs.
The lead author of the new paper is Margaret Lee, a doctoral candidate at the London Business School in the United Kingdom, and the findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Most people think that attractive individuals have it easier, especially on the job market. However, as Lee and her colleagues explain, good-looking people may actually be disadvantaged — in certain hiring situations, at least.
More specifically, when applying for jobs perceived as less desirable, physically attractive candidates may be discriminated against negatively, say the researchers.
The reason for this, the scientists hypothesized, may be that employers are looking to hire people who will be satisfied in their jobs — but the prejudice that attractive people are more entitled leads them to believe that such candidates will not be happy with their job.
To test their hypothesis, Lee and her team conducted four experiments including more than 750 participants.
Using workplace simulations in the four different experiments, the researchers aimed to see whether or not employers perceived good-looking candidates as having a stronger sense of entitlement compared with unattractive individuals.
Additionally, the researchers looked at whether employers perceived this as affecting the candidates’ projected job satisfaction.
In order to obtain this information, they asked participants if they perceived the candidates as entitled, if they think the candidates would be happy in a variety of positions, and finally, if the employers would hire them for those job positions.
They compared the participants’ answers to situations involving different jobs, ranging from those perceived as less desirable (such as customer service workers, representatives, housekeepers, or warehouse workers), to those perceived as more desirable (such as managers, project directors, or information technology interns).
Study participants included people who had real-world managerial experience. In the experiments, they were given photos of potential candidates along with information on their achievements.
The photos that they used had been rated as depicting attractive and unattractive individuals in previous research by the same scientists.
The new study found that, across three of the four experiments, employers were considerably less inclined to hire the good-looking candidates for the less desirable jobs. Instead, they were likely to hire the attractive people for the jobs perceived as more desirable.
Lee summarizes the findings, saying, “We found that participants perceived attractive individuals to feel more entitled to good outcomes than unattractive individuals, and that attractive individuals were predicted to be less satisfied with an undesirable job than an unattractive person.”
“In the selection decision for an undesirable job, decision-makers were more likely to choose the unattractive individual over the attractive individual. We found this effect to occur even with hiring managers.”
“Our research suggests that attractive people may be discriminated against in selection for relatively less desirable jobs,” she adds.
“This stands in contrast to a large body of research that concluded that attractiveness, by and large, helps candidates in the selection process.”
Therefore, it is not the case that attractive individuals are favored regardless of the position; rather, the new findings suggest that this positive bias is restricted to high-level positions, and that this has been “an oversight” of previous research.
“[Extant] work,” the authors write, “largely ignored jobs marked by relatively less desirable features, such as jobs that are less interesting. This oversight is both theoretically important and socially consequential,” they say.
“The most interesting part of our findings,” says study co-author Madan Pillutla, Ph.D., from the London Business School, “is that decision-makers take into consideration others’ assumed aspirations in their decisions.”
“Because participants thought that attractive individuals would want better outcomes, and therefore participants predicted that attractive individuals would be less satisfied,” Dr. Pillutla continues, “they reversed their discrimination pattern.”