Thursday, March 30, 2006

Put your best face forward

It's not what you know, or even who you know. It's what you look like. That's the perception of 11,130 members of who responded to a poll on whether changing their appearance could improve their job prospects.

Most Workers Say Plastic Surgery Would Help with Career

More than half of workers say having plastic surgery or cosmetic dental work would help them advance their career, according to a poll by

Fifty-three percent of respondents to the online poll said plastic surgery would help their career. Thirty-one percent of respondents disagreed, and 14 percent were unsure.

More than 21,000 people responded to Monster's online poll about appearance, plastic surgery, and the workplace.

Since Monster is a job listing as well as a job seeking site, I'd be curious to know what percentage of these respondents were looking to hire people compared to the number looking for a job.

This is not a scientific poll, but a self-selecting one. The numbers may be skewed by the fact that those satisfied with their employment--or even employed at all--are less likely to visit the site, thus participate in the poll. I'd be interested in a gender and age breakdown of the results, as well as a listing of what procedures they believe would give them an advantage. There's a big difference between thinking that dental bleaching would be a benefit and believing that breast implants and face lifts would give a worker a leg up.

Any way you look at it, these numbers are discouraging. Given that the number of middle-aged and older workers looking for jobs is significantly higher than it was 10 years ago, thanks to downsizing and outsourcing, they're probably looking for any way for a 50-year-old to level the playing field with 22-year-old new college graduates.

These are fuzzy numbers, true. But to me, this indicates a high level of suspicion that age and appearance discrimination exists in hiring today. What was once the realm of visual entertainment seems to have entered the mainstream mindset.

Are older workers at a true disadvantage? Would cosmetic procedures make them more attractive candidates? Beauty, or lack thereof, has been proven to be a source of discrimination.

According to Robert J. Stonebraker, Winthrop University:
Drawing on three surveys encompassing more than 7,000 respondents, economists Dan Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle tried to statistically isolate the impact of beauty on earnings.3 In addition to gathering data on employment and earnings, the interviewers rated the respondents' physical attractiveness. Respondents were categorized as either strikingly beautiful or handsome, above average for age, average for age, below average for age, or homely. Overall, 34 percent of the respondents were rated as striking or above average while only eight percent as below average or homely.

Even after adjusting for such factors as education, experience, age, race, and occupation, the authors find that beauty has a significant impact on earnings. The impact is not as great as that of race or gender, but it is significant nonetheless. Respondents rated as striking or above average earned a wage premium of about five percent, while those rated as below average or homely suffered a wage penalty of about nine percent. The total earnings gap between the two groups was about 14 percent. Interestingly, the impact of physical appearance was somewhat greater for males than for females, though the difference was not statistically significant.

This says nasty things about our culture. Perception cannot change until practices do, and to be forced to consider cosmetic surgery to find a job or gain advancement is disgusting. The Monster poll exposes how wide spread this belief is. Now lets go after the cause.

(Cross-posted at I See Invisible People)

No comments: