Research Finds That Attractive Women Face a Disadvantage When Applying for Traditional Male Jobs

Previous research has shown that people generally believed to be attractive do better in securing jobs than people who are perceived as being less attractive. But a new study led by Stefanie K. Johnson, an associate professor of management in the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder shows that the opposite is true for women who seek jobs in traditionally male occupations.

Dr. Johnson refers to this as the “beauty is beastly” effect, which suggests that when attractive women apply for masculine jobs in which attractiveness is not relevant, they are hindered by their beauty — particularly in comparison to unattractive women.

The researchers employed a “decoy applicant” to test their hypotheses, manipulating the number of attractive candidates applying for a masculine job. The authors found that when a third unattractive decoy was part of the hiring pool, the beauty is beastly effect occurred — in other words, the attractive individual was less likely to be hired. Conversely, when a third attractive decoy candidate was included, they confirmed that bias related to a candidate’s beauty was reduced.

Dr. Johnson is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College in California. She earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She joined the faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2014 after teaching at the University of Colorado at Denver and Colorado State University.

The full study, “Can Looks Deceive You? Attractive Decoys Mitigate Beauty Is Beastly Bias Against Women,” was published in the Archives of Scientific Psychology. It may be accessed here. The study’s co-author is Elsa Chan of the City University of Hong Kong.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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