Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

What sex is your job? 


Generally speaking the more attractive you are the more you earn (see “Take me to your leader…“).

This is even true of lecturers and lawyers, professions where you might think expertise was more important, and what’s more people think you are also better at your job – an example of the “halo” effect.

It’s especially true for women who compensate for their lack of what you might call traditional skills to get to the top by utilising their feminine assets, what has been called “erotic capital“. So maybe it’s no surprise that many women believe attractiveness is more important for their self-esteem than job competence or intelligence.

However a recent study at the University of Colorado Business School, widely reported in the press, shows that women can be too attractive for their own good. Pretty women will always have an advantage in secretarial jobs and jobs considered feminine, or where there is face to face contact such as in sales or customer service, but in jobs where attractiveness is unimportant attractive women might as well not bother applying.

In jobs considered masculine such as security, truck driving, prison guard, hardware sales, and even  some management jobs, attractive women were at a disadvantage and discriminated against.

Men will be pleased to learn that being good-looking is always an advantage for them and they are never discriminated against because of it.

It seems that the more politically correct we become the more research demonstrates that human beings aren’t always rational and we make decisions based on emotions more than we might like to think.

Updated 19 August 2010: Women’s salaries increased by 2.8% last year compared to 2.3% for men – according to a survey by the Chartered Management Institute. If women’s pay continues to improve at that rate women will have parity with men by 2067 -almost 100 years after the Equal Pay Act.

The average salary for male managers was £41,337, about £10,000 more than women managers earned (these surveys don’t seem to take into account the sectors where women work which may pay less than the sectors dominated by male managers).

This is also reflected at the bottom of the career hierarchy with junior male executives earning £22,253, just over £1,000 more than their female counterparts. There were bigger gaps in IT and pharmaceuticals at this level, over £3,500.

In the boardroom however it’s a different story. Female directors out-earn men with an average salary of £144,729 compared with £138, 765 for men.


Author: mikethepsych

He says he's a psychologist but aren't we all?

10 thoughts on “What sex is your job? 

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  6. An interesting twist on “conventional wisdom”; however, is it not possible that attractive women have a disadvantage in “traditionally male” jobs because they lack (or give the impression of lacking) in attributes like physical strength? (Notably, women who are classified as attractive are often more feminine, including being of a more slender build.) In this case, the attractiveness would not be the cause—just something correlated. In a bigger picture, there is some possibility that the difference in success is not even discrimination (in the modern sense), but a side-effect of differences in e.g. testosterone and oestrogen levels (which, if I understand the situation correctly, also have a strong effect on attractiveness).

    “Men will be pleased to learn that being good-looking is always an advantage for them and they are never discriminated against because of it.”

    Attractive men will pleased—the unattractive may be less than thrilled…

    • Thanks Michael you make a good point. This experiment has been replicated amongst Newsweek readers with the same results. I have tried to find out what gender the participants were who sorted the photographs against the jobs but without success so far. I think it would be interesting to know whether men or women were more likely to discriminate in this way. Perhaps people think if you are female and too attractive for the job you might waste time on your make-up – who knows?

      One thing I did discover when researching the background was;” While hiring discrimination by gender, race and age are illegal, discrimination by physical appearance is not, except in the state of Michigan and a handful of cities, including San Francisco and Washington, writes Stanford University law professor Deborah L. Rhode in her recent book, “The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law.” (Rhode argues that it should be illegal.) Yet few employers who hire on looks like to advertise that practice. NB I reference Rhode in my post: Beauty is only skin deep…”

  7. Great read.

    On your last line, I’d suggest rationality has its uses, as does trusting emotions (or intuition). Becoming overly dependent on one, without using the other, is a recipe for making bad decisions (or not being able to make decisions at all through analysis paralysis).

    Rationality can provide most of the framework to analysing a situation, but intuition will almost always provide the final piece of puzzle in situations where logic is impossible and heuristic inference has to take over.

    Thinking in evolutionary terms, I’d hazard that its humanity’s ability to integrate logic with intuition (rationality with emotionality) to heuristically solve problems that allowed us to get to where we are today.

    • Thanks for reading and for your comments. I think you are absolutely right. Right brain – left brain, logic – Intuition, whichever way you look at it it after all the analyses it often comes down to that gut feeling. And maybe intuition is no more than collected experiences tucked away in our unconscious mind for such an occasion, or when triggered by emotions?

      • Yes, I like that and agree. I think of intuition as being a sort of fuzzy logic, allowing us to use stereotypes, past experiences, and unconscious interpretations in a heuristic way. Like any heuristic process, it can be wrong so should not be trusted alone. But the inherent “fudge factor” built into such a process can allow us to answer questions that pure empiricism alone could not, because sometimes (often!), the intuition is correct. I personally believe that the more insight we develop, the better “tuned” our intuition becomes.

        Jung of course took it a step further, with intuition/instinct stemming from the collective unconscious…