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Attractiveness and attainment: status, beauty, and jobs in China and the United States

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Marquis, Christopher  ORCID logo
Tilcsik, A 
Zhang, Y 


The effect of physical attractiveness on labor market outcomes has inspired widespread social scientific interest but generated conflicting results, with some studies finding a positive effect and others a negative one. To address these contradictory results, we conceptualize attractiveness as a diffuse status characteristic and emphasize the role of status consistency in matching job applicants to positions of varying prestige. We argue that the effects of attractiveness will depend on consistency with the job seeker’s other status characteristics, such as educational prestige, and fit with the status of the focal job. A résumé audit study in China and a pre-registered survey experiment in the United States support our hypotheses. In both cultural contexts, more attractive applicants with elite educational credentials were favored for higher-status jobs, and less attractive applicants from non-elite universities were favored for lower-status positions. Applicants with either attractive looks or elite educational credentials, but not both, were not favored for either type of job. Our status consistency and fit model helps reconcile the contradictory results of previous research, has implications for the design of audit studies, and illuminates the interplay between physical and non-physical status characteristics in labor markets.



4410 Sociology, 44 Human Society

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American Journal of Sociology

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University of Chicago Press
This research was undertaken, in part, thanks to funding from the Canada Research Chairs Program and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.