Dress for the Job -- Appearance and Paycheck

Make sure to have a homework shirt in back-to-school wardrobes, says Ken Haller M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine according to Newswise. “What a child is wearing can really help him to buckle down and study.” Haller said that he first heard of the idea of wearing special homework clothes in a psychology class in medical school. Wearing the homework shirt helped him because it said it was time to study. When he took it off, he “felt a sense of relief that I had accomplished something.”

Do the right clothes enhance job performance? Dress codes help employers to project a company’s image. Mindbridge Software in Norristown, PA requires formal business attire on the job, according to a report in USA Today in order to differentiate itself from other software firms which generally have laid-back dress codes. Patti Pao, of David’s Bridal, in Conshohocken, PA, never goes to a meeting without putting on lipstick. “You’re a personification of who you work for,” she told USA Today.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found evidence of a “beauty premium” in wages, in an analysis of recent research on the relationship between appearance and wages. Quoting a study by economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle, the report said that “a person with below-average looks tended to earn 9 percent less per hour, and an above-average looking person tended to earn 5 percent more per hour than an average looking person.”

Occupations where employees have more interpersonal contact had more above-average looking employees, according to Hamermesh and Biddle, but the wage differences related to appearance were evident in all occupations.

Above-average height among men has a positive affect on wages. CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies are approximately 3 inches taller than the average American man, according to journalist Malcolm Gladwell, who conducted a survey of about one-half of the CEOs for his book, Blink. Thirty percent of the CEOs are at least 6 feet 2; the average American man is 5 foot 9.

Research by economists from the University of Pennsylvania found a 1.8 percent increase in wages for every additional inch of height among white American men, according to Newswise. The University of Pennsylvania researchers also found a connection between height at age 16 and adult wages in the group studied. Each additional inch of height at age 16 was associated with a 2.7 percent increase in adult wages.

Some of the wage differences could be tied to “unmeasured productivity”, according to the Federal Reserve analysis. Confidence arising from appearance can affect communication, and height and weight can affect productivity in some jobs.

Not all of the wage differences in the Federal Reserve analysis can be explained by unmeasured productivity, suggesting that discrimination because of appearance is a possible explanation. Employees have no protection from appearance-based discrimination, according to USA Today. “Employers are free to be unfair,” Bill O’Brien, a Minneapolis-based employment lawyer told the newspaper. “Other than some protected classes, there isn’t a great deal employees can do about it.”

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