It well known that smarter people tend to do better in life, but what about attractive people or self-confident people? With today’s emphasis on looks, it might be that attractive people get ahead. And what role does self-confidence play?
A recent report by Timothy Judge, Charlice Hurst, and Lauren Simon from the University of Florida was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The researchers questioned 191 adults in the Boston area who were taking part in a long-term, longitudinal study. The study measured a number of characteristics including income (which was used as a measure of life success), intelligence (9 different IQ tests), education, attractiveness (based on ratings on facial photographs), and self-evaluations of life satisfaction (e.g., “I am pleased with how my life has turned out so far.”). Controlling for age, race, and gender, the study used covariance structural models to study direct and indirect effects on income.
Not surprisingly, intelligence was positively related to income, which was used as the measure of life success. Income was also strongly related to the amount of education a person completes. Attractiveness was also positively related to income, but mostly because of mediating relationships with education and positive self-evaluations. So, more attractive people did make more money, but mostly because they got more education and feel better about themselves. Attractiveness alone was only weakly related to life success.
So, when determining life success, it is better to be smart, but attractiveness and self-confidence can help.
There are obvious limitations to the study. The sample size was small and limited to the Boston area — attractiveness might be more important in other parts of the country (i.e., California) and other places in the world. Attractiveness was also measured at adulthood, even though appearance during childhood might have the largest effect on life success.
Also, self-reported income was used as the measure of life success and it could be argued that there is more to life than money. And, of course, correlation does not imply causation – we can’t say for sure that intelligence and attractiveness cause higher incomes, just that they tend to occur together.
Reference: Judge, T.A., Hurst, C. & Simon, L.S. (2009). Does it pay to be smart, attractive, or confident (or all three)? Relationships among general mental ability, physical attractiveness, core self-evaluations, and income. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 94, No. 3, 742–755.