Are Your Parents Hot? You Might Earn More Money, Study Finds

Good genes can mean deeper pockets.

Two people with a high net worth.
Two people with a high net worth. / Westend61 via Getty Images

The next time you come across an old photo of your mother or father, you might want to assess their looks. If they’re considered conventionally attractive, there’s a chance you’re going to make more money.

A new working paper [PDF] (which has not been peer-reviewed or officially published) from the private nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research took the somewhat unusual step of analyzing a unique theory: If a connection exists between attractiveness and career success, what does it mean if a person’s parents were good-looking?

The study’s authors, Daniel Hamermesh and Anwen Zhang, examined data from both the United States and China that contrasted a third-party perception of parental appearance with the earnings of their offspring, including a longitudinal study that began in 1957 and followed graduates of a Wisconsin high school (and whose yearbook photos were later “rated” by independent observers).

Their conclusion: One standard deviation of difference in parents’ physical looks correlated with a 0.05 deviation in their child’s income, which amounted to about $2300 per year. Over a working life, that could mean over $100,000 in additional earnings.

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There are two possible reasons for this outcome. The first, of course, is that the genes of conventionally attractive people often result in conventionally attractive offspring, introducing them to the positive benefits of physical beauty as it relates to income and job opportunities.

Second, those “hot” couples may have benefited from the same positive reception to meeting beauty ideals, meaning they made more money and likely instill those skills or strategies into their children. There’s also a more direct method: Because those parents earned more, they’re able to leave their kids more money when their beautiful bodies finally expire.

“Good-looking parents make more money,” Hamermesh told CBS News. “The effects of looks on money have been shown countless times. Their beauty affects their income, and they pass that income-earning ability down to their kids.”

Speaking with, Hamermesh also pointed out that the effect can play out in reverse. If your parents are below average in appearance, you might earn thousands less than someone with average-looking predecessors.

The link between beauty and income has regularly proven to be strong. A 2015 cohort study published in The Review of Economics and Statistics found a correlation between men with a photogenic high school yearbook presence and higher income later in life.

While not as heavily scrutinized as ageism, sexism, or racism, this so-called “beauty bias” (or what Harvard Business Review referred to as “lookism”) can mean that physically attractive applicants may find themselves interviewed, hired, and promoted more frequently than their plainer-looking counterparts. It’s one area in which artificial intelligence (AI) might be able to remove human bias and even the playing field. To a computer, all humans—and their parents—look pretty much the same.

Hamermesh has previously suggested one possible workaround to this beauty premium: continued education. Each year of additional study can net as much as a 10 percent increase in earnings. In other words: If you don’t have looks, hit the books.

[h/t CBS News]