Why It Pays to Be Attractive

Good looks lead to higher salaries and other financial advantages.

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What can people do to boost their chances of getting a good salary if they're not attractive? For starters, they shouldn't try to alter their physical appearance, according to Hamermesh. One study, titled "Ugly Ducklings Become Ugly Ducks," had observers rate pictures of people when they were 10 years old and then when they were 50, and found a strong correlation in beauty ratings—suggesting that you're pretty much stuck with the looks you're born with. Research on plastic surgery supports this theory. A study by Soohyung Lee of the University of Maryland—College Park studied Koreans who had received plastic surgery and found that undergoing such operations might make you feel better about yourself, but they aren't a good investment in terms of improving your wages.

[See 10 Wardrobe Musts For Your Next Interview.]

Studies also show that less-drastic changes, like dressing better, taking care of your hair, buying nicer clothing, and applying makeup have almost no effect on beauty. "We can't change our looks much," Hamermesh says. Instead, he suggests emphasizing your skills: "Take advantage of your brains, your musical ability, your physical strength, your nice personality—whatever it is you have that sets you apart."