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Understanding the Beauty Premium

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UVA Professor Stephen Baek and his colleague Suyong Song used big data to explore the beauty premium.

It’s called the Beauty Premium – the idea that people who are more physically attractive are destined for higher pay, but at the University of Virginia Professor Stephen Baek says height and weight are just the tip of an intriguing iceberg.

“Even for people with the same height and same BMI, depending on how often they work out, depending on their diet, the muscle composition will be different," he explains. "People may have different body shapes.”

That’s just one of many conclusions he reached with colleague Suyong Song when they studied a database of nearly 2,400 people. It included 3-D body scans of subjects. Tall men did, indeed, do better financially, and larger women fared worse, but statistics from previous studies may be off because Baek says they relied on people reporting their own measures. “In the case of male subjects, they have a tendency to report their height taller than their actual height. People have a tendency to report their weight lower than their actual weight.”

Baek and Song hope to develop a much more detailed model to improve understanding of the beauty premium – one that would also consider things like skin tone, hip and waist ratio and other information they can collect from their detailed database. Results could help employers to better understand bias and to experiment with different solutions.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief