Many readers will have heard of the beauty premium. It is the empirical finding that good-looking people are treated better by their environment than more homely-looking people. For example, good-looking CEOs experience a boost to the share price of their companies and good-looking people get better deals in negotiations.
One problem with the beauty premium is that it is based mostly on experiments done in the English-speaking world. Hence, Benjamin Kohler and Wladislaw Mill set out to explore if the beauty premium exists also in other regions. To do this, one would expect to run field studies in a large number of countries with a large number of participants. Obviously, that costs tons of money, and given tight research budgets, Kohler and Mill used a detour.
They looked at texts written in a large number of languages and used machine learning programmes to statistically analyse the correlation of expressions of beauty and good looks with expressions of success. The higher the correlation, the more closely associated the concepts of ‘beauty’ and ‘success’ are in a given language. While that may not give us direct evidence of a beauty premium in the form of better economic outcomes for better-looking people, it does give us a hint if a culture views beauty as a success factor or vice versa (note they measure correlation, not causation, so we don’t know what drives what). In other words, we cannot see the fire, but we can measure if there is smoke rising to the sky.
The results are intriguing and depressing in equal measure (you are welcome, thank God it’s Friday…). The depressing part for less attractive people like me is that the beauty premium seems to be universal. Beauty and success tend to go hand in hand in most languages.
The intriguing part is, that this ‘beauty premium’ does not seem to be the same size in different languages as the chart below shows. In the English language, the beauty premium is slightly below average. Note that in ‘rational German’, the beauty premium is particularly small. And it is the smallest or even negative in Vietnamese, Thai, and Romanian. So, if you are worried about being disadvantaged for looking homely, you may consider moving to Southeast Asia or Romania where there is no stigma involved.
The language beauty premium across the world
Source: Kohler and Mill (2023)
Meanwhile, in countries that speak French or Italian, there seems to be a larger beauty premium, which probably comes as little surprise to anyone who has ever spent more than a day in France or Italy. Honestly, I take care of how I dress and look, but every time I go to Milan or Paris, I feel like an underdressed ugly duckling.
Apparently, the situation gets really bad in Somalia where the analysis showed the largest beauty premium by far. I have never been to Somalia but maybe some readers can enlighten me.