The Surprising Success of the Extremely Unattractive

You might expect that more attractive people would have an edge in life. And in general, you’d probably be right: an analysis by researchers at the London School of Economics has found, for example, that attractive people tend to earn more than unattractive people.

But there’s a pretty significant catch. The same analysis identified another group of people who might have an unexpected edge: people who are not just unattractive, but very unattractive.

While attractive people earned more than unattractive people, very unattractive people also earned more than unattractive people, somewhat paradoxically. And in some situations, the highly unattractive actually outearned people with above average attractiveness.

When the researchers went further into the data, they found an explanation: very unattractive people tended to have higher intelligence and education.

The researchers then looked at another factor in all this: what kind of mating success very unattractive people tended to have.

Again, the results were counterintuitive, especially in the case of women. Women who were categorized as very unattractive were more likely to be married at age 29 than women who were somewhat unattractive or those with an average level of attractiveness. On top of that, they tended to be married to spouses who earned more money.

These findings led the researchers to suggest an explanation for why the very unattractive people in their sample might be more intelligent. I’ll let the researchers put this in their own words:

If intelligent men have historically preferred to marry very unattractive women generation after generation, then, because both general intelligence and physical attractiveness are highly heritable, this can explain why very unattractive workers are more intelligent and achieve higher education, thereby earning more.

As you can tell, this idea is speculative. And really, even the idea that very unattractive people have a hidden advantage in life needs to be tested more to be confirmed. But at the very least, these results tell us that the way attractiveness affects other aspects of life like financial success and even success in finding a romantic partner might be more complex than we give it credit for.

Image: Flickr/baklavabaklava