Monday, September 12, 2011

Beautiful work and the beauty premium

It pays to be beautiful, but it's risky to try to make it big on beauty alone.
That's the message from recent books and other work showing that good looking people earn more--there's a "beauty premium," but that a career in modeling is high risk.

Slate reviews Pricing Beauty, by BU's Ashley Mears, a book about an industry with a good looking work force, models and modeling agencies.

"Through interviews, Mears investigated the financial state of the (unnamed) small modeling firm she worked for in Manhattan. She found that 20 percent of the models on the agency's books were in debt to the agency. Foreign models, in particular, seem to exist in a kind of indentured servitude, she writes, often owing as much as $10,000 to their agencies for visas, flights, and test shoots, all before they even go on their first casting call. And once a model does nab a job, the pay is often meager. Mears herself walked runways, sat for photo shoots for an online clothing catalog, modeled for designers in showrooms, and went on countless unpaid casting calls. During her first year of research she worked mornings, evenings, and weekends around her graduate classes and earned about $11,000.
"The alternative to high-fashion poverty is to be a "money girl," working for catalogs and in showroom fittings, jobs that pay well and reliably. The best-paid model at Mears' agency, for instance, was a 52-year-old showroom model with "the precise size 8 body needed to fit clothing for a major American retailer. She makes $500/hour and works every day." But the commercial end of modeling is widely derided within the industry as low-rent, as mere work without glamour. Once a model has done too many commercial jobs, she is thought to have cheapened herself, and it's exceedingly difficult for her to return to high fashion."
Over the last few years in economics, there have been a lot of studies about pricing beauty in the general work force, where there seems to be a premium for looking good.
See Dan Hamermesh's Beauty Research Papers, and his book Beauty Pays--Why Attractive People are More Successful

A nice experimental paper in the AER by Markus Mobius and Tanya Rosenblat, Why Beauty Matters, even shows that some of the beauty premium can be collected through telephone interviews in which the interviewer can't actually see how attractive the interviewee is. This suggests that some of the beauty premium may come from the increased self confidence that beauty bestows.

(Of course not only the beautiful can get the part of the premium available over the phone: this must be what people mean when they tell me I have a face for radio...:)

No comments: