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December 5, 2010
While good-looking men find it easier to land a job interview, attractive women may be at a disadvantage, a new study from Israel suggests. Resumes that included photos of handsome men were twice as likely to generate requests for an interview, the study found. But resumes from women that included photos were up to 30 percent less likely to get a response, whether or not the women were attractive.
That good-looking women were passed over for interviews “was surprising,” said study leader Bradley Ruffle, an economics researcher and lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The finding contradicts a considerable body of research that shows that good-looking people are typically viewed as smarter, kinder and more talented than those who are less attractive, he said.
But Daniel S. Hamermesh, professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, “wasn’t totally surprised,” noting that other studies, including one of his own, have found beauty a liability in the workplace. “I call this the ‘Bimbo Effect,'” said Hamermesh, considered an authority on the association between beauty and the labor market.
The current study appears online on the Social Science Research Network.
In Israel, job hunters have the option of including a headshot with their resumes, whereas that is customary in many European countries but taboo in the United States, Ruffle said. That made Israel the ideal testing ground for his research, he said.
To determine whether a job candidate’s appearance affects the likelihood of landing an interview, Ruffle and a colleague mailed 5,312 virtually identical resumes, in pairs, in response to 2,656 advertised job openings in 10 different fields. One resume included a photo of an attractive man or woman or a plain man or woman; the other had no photo. Almost 400 employers (14.5 percent) responded.
The resumes of good-looking men received a 20 percent response rate, compared to a 14 percent response for men with no photo and 9 percent for resumes from plain-looking men, the study found. However, among women, resumes without photos got the highest response — 22 percent higher than those from plain women and 30 percent higher than those from attractive women.
The apparent bias against attractive women depended on the type of employer that reviewed the resumes, said Ruffle. Employment agencies called pretty women as often as plain ones, and only slightly less than women who didn’t include a photo. But when the resumes were screened directly by the company at which the candidate might work, those from attractive women received half the response of those from either plain women or women who didn’t include photos.
Hypothesizing that human resource departments are staffed mostly by women who feel jealous of attractive women in the workplace, the researchers called each company to speak to the person who had reviewed the resumes. In this post-study survey, they found that 24 out of 25 were women.
The researchers also learned that the resume-screeners tended to be young and single, “qualities that are more likely to be associated with jealousy,” said Ruffle.
Hamermesh wasn’t convinced of the hypothesis, noting that the women trying to fill the open position were unlikely to work in the same division as the applicant, attractive or not. “The researchers were not able to really test this. It was just an interesting hypothesis,” he said.
It’s true that in most previous studies of labor-market outcomes, attractive women have come out on top, he said. “But other studies have found evidence of the Bimbo Effect,” he said.
In a 1998 study, Hamermesh and co-author Jeff Biddle found that good looks enhanced the likelihood that a male attorney would make partner early, but reduced that likelihood for the most attractive women.
While attractive women received fewer callbacks, those who make it to the interview stage still might land the job, the study said. The resume-screener might not be the interviewer, and even if they are one and the same, the “pretty woman” bias might fade during a face-to-face interview.
Still, “women are better off not including a photo with their resumes,” said Ruffle.
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