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CEOs' facial traits.

Research in economics indicates that, on the whole, better looking workers earn more than workers who are less attractive. But what about CEOs? And what about facial characteristics other than beauty? John R. Graham, Campbell R. Harvey, and Manju Puri, all from Duke University's business school, attempt to answer these questions in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper titled "A Corporate Beauty Contest" (NBER Working paper No. 15906, April 2010).

Graham, Harvey, and Puri conducted a study in which participants viewed photographs and, using a one-to-five scale, rated people whom they had never seen on competence, trustworthiness, beauty, and likability. The participants also looked at pairs of photographs selected which person appeared more competent, more trustworthy, and so forth. When respondents were asked to choose which of two persons appeared more competent--one person being a CEO and the other not--they chose the CEO about 54 percent of the time. Participants in the study also viewed the CEOs as more attractive, less trustworthy, and less likable, although the differences for these other traits were not as sharp as that for competent looks.

Respondents also looked at photos of CEOs of large companies alongside photos of CEOs of small companies. People who headed big firms were judged to be more competent, less trustworthy, and less likable than those who headed small firms. However, it was the small-firm CEOs who were most often chosen as the more attractive. Again, the sharpest difference was for the competence rating.

The researchers also examined CEO pay as a function of facial features and found a statistically significant positive association between pay and "competent looks" but not between pay and any other facial features. Notably, the authors did not find a significant association between CEOs' performance and any facial features, including competent looks. Participants in the study also indicated whether they found the people in the pictures to appear "baby-faced" or "mature," and the researchers calculated bivariate correlations between "baby-facedness" and the four aforementioned facial traits. They found that baby-facedness was negatively and significantly correlated with competent looks and was positively and significantly correlated with the appearance of likability. No significant correlations were found for attractiveness or the appearance of trustworthiness. Graham, Harvey, and Puri conclude that, just as there is an apparently undeserved wage premium for beauty in many occupations, there appears to be an undeserved premium for competent looks among CEOs.

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Title Annotation:Precis
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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