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

Accepted version
Peer-reviewed

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Type

Article

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Authors

Marquis, Christopher  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0926-0565
Tilcsik, A 
Zhang, Y 

Abstract

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.

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Keywords

4410 Sociology, 44 Human Society

Journal Title

American Journal of Sociology

Conference Name

Journal ISSN

0002-9602
1537-5390

Volume Title

129

Publisher

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