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The likability factor
Scripps Howard News Service


May 21, 2005

As a work-at-home dad, I'm always on the lookout for items that help justify my decision to remain unemployed - whoops, I meant self-employed - and a couple of new publications do just that.

One is a new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which found that attractive people tend to make more money than their more homely counterparts. The other is a new self-help book by Tim Sanders called "The Likability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life's Dreams."

This is just the kind of workplace pressure I don't need. To become a success, to even get paid as much as the next guy, I need to be handsome and likable? I'm sorry, but that's asking too much. Better that I continue to work alone at home, where I can be as unkempt and unfriendly as usual.

The Federal Reserve study found that attractive people tend to earn 5 percent more per hour than average-looking folks, after factoring out other variables like education and experience. Worse yet, the researchers found a "plainness penalty" of 9 percent less per hour, punishing those with below-average looks.

The worst penalty hit women who were obese; they were paid 17 percent less per hour than slim women. Tall men, on the other hand, scored a slight "height premium" for each inch they towered over the national median.

The Fed said these differences in earning might result from differences in self-confidence or social skills. Or it could be plain old discrimination.

The government should study this topic more carefully, because I know we all have questions. For example, I personally am abnormally tall. Does that mean I've been paid extra all these years? I don't think so. As I become increasingly obese, does that cancel out my height? Does my lifelong attachment (har!) to facial hair work against me?

In general, can the "beauty premium" be proven to exist, and can we find ways to mitigate such discrimination? Do short, fat, homely people have a class-action lawsuit here? Can an "extreme makeover" result in a promotion? Can we now argue that plastic surgery is a legitimate business expense and should therefore be tax-deductible?

Meanwhile, Sanders, an author and motivational speaker, has been getting lots of media attention for his new book, which stresses smiling and listening and empathy and appreciation for others and similar such "likable" traits.

This would seem to be good news for those suffering the "plainness penalty." Maybe you can't change your face, but you can plaster a smile on it. Maybe it's too late to grow taller, but you can grow more empathetic to co-workers. People will say, "You know, old (insert your name here) is ugly as a mud fence, but he sure is friendly!"

Likability's not for me. If I started acting likable in a workplace, colleagues would want to "share" things with me and tell me their personal problems and generally have conversations. Who needs that grief? From there, it's only a short leap to co-workers selling me pounds of band candy that would make me even fatter, which could affect my earnings. Frankly, I can't afford the cut in pay.

Yes, these two publications give me all the ammunition I need in my ongoing battle to remain a grumpy house hermit. Clearly, the corporate world, whether it realizes it or not, has hung out a sign that says, "Ugly Old Grouches Need Not Apply."

That's good enough for me. I know when I'm not wanted. I'll stay home.


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer is the author of "Trophy Husband: A Survival Guide to Working at Home." Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)

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