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The Benefits of Being Blond

Skin color matters. What about hair and eye color?

It is well-established that skin color influences socioeconomic and romantic outcomes. But what about differences in hair or eye color?

Several studies indicate that blond women enjoy an earnings premium (Gueguen 2012; Johnston 2010) and that men favor blonds (Swami 2011). Waitresses wearing blond wigs receive larger tips from men (women’s tipping behavior is unrelated to waitresses’ hair color), blond women enjoy higher income (Johnston 2010), and men are more likely to approach (Swami 2011) and to help blond women (Gueguen 2009; Gueguen 2012). However, to my knowledge, extant research has not considered whether blond men also enjoy a wage premium or romantic perks. In addition, studies documenting romantic benefits to being blond focus on men’s interactions with unknown women. Further research is needed to determine whether blond women differ in actual romantic outcomes, such as the likelihood of marriage.

Blond-haired, blue-eyed beauties?

If there are social and economic benefits to being blond, might blue eyes grant similar perks? And why might blond hair and blue eyes be preferred? Scant research considers the social consequences of eye color, although some scholars have advanced evolutionarily-informed arguments that blue-eyed men will prefer blue-eyed women (Laeng 2007). Social constructions of beauty may also propagate a general preference for blonds. Still, preferential treatment of blonds (and potentially of the blue-eyed) might be about more than aesthetics. In fact, despite men’s apparent preference for blonds, they do not rate blond women as being more beautiful or more fertile than other women (Swami 2008). Similarly, blue eyes are not rated more favorably than other iris colors, although the color blue is mentioned more often than other colors in explaining why a given eye is considered attractive (Grundl et al 2012).

New evidence

I use data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 cohort (NLSY79) to assess the impact of hair and eye color on earnings and marriage for both women and men. I limit the sample to non-Hispanic white respondents; otherwise, hair and eye color would be conflated with race. Using mean annual earned income over the survey period (1979-2010) and also lifetime earnings by age forty-five, I find evidence of a wage premium for blond women, net of education and hours worked. However, redheaded women enjoy a similar wage premium, and I also find some mixed evidence that blond men may also receive higher pay. There is no pecuniary advantage to having blue eyes for either gender.

I also assessed the effect of hair and eye color on the odds of having ever married by the latest interview in 2010, when respondents are 45-53 years old. Net of hair color, educational attainment, and marital intentions (the respondent’s expectation of eventually marrying, assessed at the initial interview in 1979), blue-eyed men are more likely to marry. Hair and eye color are not significant predictors of ever marrying for women.

To ensure the robustness of these results, I conducted a parallel analysis using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent and Adult Health 1994-2008 (Add Health). As in the NLSY79, blond women enjoy an earnings premium. There is mixed evidence that men might also benefit from blondness and that redheaded men may suffer lower earnings. I also use the Add Health data to predict whether respondents have ever married by the most recent interview, when they are mostly in their late twenties. Consistent with the NLSY79 data, blue-eyed men are more likely than brown-eyed men to have married by the most recent interview, as are green-eyed men. Neither hair nor eye color influences marital outcomes for women.

Like prior research, I find that blond women (and perhaps blond men) indeed enjoy higher earnings, net of educational attainment and hours worked. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that bleaching your hair will persuade your boss to raise your salary. Blond hair may be acting as a proxy for some other characteristic (such as pale skin or a specific ethnic ancestry) that is the underlying force behind the blond wage bonus. Going blond may not improve your love life either. Despite men’s apparent preference for blonds, blond women do not differ from other women in marital outcomes. Blond women may meet more men (for example, in nightclubs: Swami 2011), but this does not necessarily translate into better odds of marriage or even more dates. In fact, it seems to be blue-eyed men who enjoy a romantic advantage over their brown-eyed counterparts.

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Grundl, Martin, et al. 2012. “The Blue-Eyes Stereotype: Do Eye Color, Pupil Diameter, and Scleral Color Affect Attractiveness?” Aesthetic Plastic Surgery 36(2):234-240.

Gueguen, Nicolas, and Lubomir Laby. 2008. “Hitchhiking Women’s Hair Color.” Perceptial and Motor Skills 109(3):941-948.

Gueguen, Nicolas. 2012. “Hair color and wages: Waitresses with blond hair have more fun.” Journal of Socio-Economics 41(2):370-372.

Gueguen, Nicolas. 2012. “The Sweet Color of an Implicit Request: Women’s Hair Color and Spontaneous Helping Behavior.” Social Behavior and Personality 40(7):1099-1102.

Johnston, David W. 2010. “Physical appearance and wages: Do blondes have more fun?” Economics Letters 108(1):10-12.

Laeng,Bruno, Ronny Mathisen, and Jan-Are Johnsen. 2007. “Why do blue-eyed men prefer women with the same eye color?” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 61(3):371-384.

Swami, Viren, Adrian Furnham, and Kiran Joshi. 2008. “The influence of skin tone, hair length, and hair colour on ratings of women's physical attractiveness, health and fertility.” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 49(5):429-437.

Swami, Viren, and Seishin Barrett. 2011. “British men's hair color preferences: An assessment of courtship solicitation and stimulus ratings.” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 52(6):595-600.