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Attractive female students usually get better grades, but not under remote learning

However, attractive male students continued to enjoy a "beauty premium" even without in-person instruction.

November 10, 2022 10:00pm

Updated: November 10, 2022 10:19pm

A new study finds that attractive students earn higher grades in school, but the “beauty premium” disappears for pretty female students when classes are held remotely.

The first finding is not new – a significant amount of research has found positive correlations between physical appearance and a person’s performance, income and other measures of personal satisfaction, according to Psy Post.  

Adrian Mehic, a graduate student at Lund University in Sweden and the author of the study, said he is largely interested in discrimination, or how people tend to choose between different choices.

“In economics research, lots of attention is given to discrimination based on gender and/or race,” said Mehic. “While these are important issues, there has not been much research on beauty-based discrimination in the educational setting, so the paper fills a gap there.”

An example of discrimination with beauty is how employers may inherently favor attractive workers over unattractive ones. An alternative theory is that beauty is a productivity-enhancing attribute – attractiveness increases self-confidence, which boosts productivity.

“Also, the pandemic made discrimination based on appearance much more difficult, since teachers could not readily see students’ faces,” he continued. “Whereas discrimination on for instance gender is possible in the online setting also, as long as you have the names of students.”

Mehic conducted a natural experiment using five cohorts of engineering students from a Swedish university, two of which attended a portion of their class remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic and were not required to turn their webcams on.

After an independent sample of 74 students rated the attractiveness of all 307 student’s faces, Mehic analyzed the data and found that attractive students tended to have higher grades in non-quantitative classes, like business and economics, but performed no better in STEM courses like math and physics.

When comparing the students who went remote against those who were in person the entire time, Mehic found that beauty premium disappeared for female students while male students still continued to enjoy a beauty advantage in non-quantitative classes.

“This, at least to me, suggests that the beauty premium for males is due to some productive attribute (for instance, them having higher self-confidence) rather than discrimination, whereas it is due to discrimination for women,” Mehic explained.

But researchers still struggle to explain why people discriminate on appearance.

“Probably, it’s because when we see an attractive person, we assign them some characteristics that they may not actually possess, such as intelligence,” Mehic said. “However, more research is required to establish precisely why this happens.”