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The Beauty Bias

Good-looking women may actually have a harder time landing some jobs.

There's a twist to the "beauty bias," the idea that physically attractive individuals are rewarded socially as well as biologically: Gorgeous women may be at a disadvantage when seeking jobs in which appearance is deemed irrelevant.

A study by Ken Podratz, of Rice University, found that while average-looking and attractive men were picked more often for jobs such as switchboard operator or tow-truck driver, beautiful women lost these same positions to less attractive females. In some jobs, an employer's gender was a factor: Men were eager to place female beauties in jobs that emphasize appearance or interpersonal contact, such as receptionist, dietitian or public relations officer. Female employers were less willing to do so. But for "male-oriented" jobs or jobs in which appearance wasn't considered important, both men and women opted for the less attractive women.

The reason? "Physical attractiveness is correlated with perceived femininity in women," says Podratz. "If a highly attractive female applies for a hypermasculine job such as truck driver or security guard, she is likely to be seen as less capable of meeting the physical demands of the job." These results "open up a can of worms," says Podratz, who, in this study, asked 66 subjects to consider 204 headshots, all rated for attractiveness, as candidates for jobs. "Do you make adjustments for attractive women in certain professions?"

Podratz admits that he's unsure whether or not he's ready to take the next step: placing subjects in real-world job-interview situations. "You're going to have to tell people they'd be perfect for this study because they're ugly."