Ever thought about the plight of the handsome man? No?
Sure, there’s plenty of research touting the wild advantages of being attractive. Handsome men make more money, are more likely to win over investors in a pitch meeting, and have a much easier time finding a mate, according to several studies.
But sometimes, just sometimes, a handsome dude’s looks work against him. So claims a small new study from University College London and the University of Maryland, which suggests it may be harder for attractive men to get a job in a competitive work environment.
The reason? The people doing the hiring feel threatened, of course—and by more than his looks.
You see, previous research has shown that employers view attractive men as more competent than their less attractive counterparts. And indeed, handsome men tend to have better work outcomes—job offers, promotions, salaries. So if the person doing the hiring feels at all insecure, he or she may unknowingly discriminate against these seemingly perfect specimens, according to Marko Pitesa, study author and assistant professor at Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
The study was broken down into four related experiments, in which participants were asked to "hire" or otherwise choose between photos of attractive and unattractive (as determined by previous research) "candidates." The experiments involved between 92 and 273 participants.
While the researchers found that attractive men fared well in a team environment, unattractive men were significantly favored in a competitive environment—one that simulated a workplace in which employees are rewarded based on individual success. Pitesa likes to use the example of car salesmen, who are technically on the same team but also competing against one another.
“In situations where there are subtle or less subtle cues of competition among colleagues," Pitesa told Fusion, "then the fact that attractive men are seen as more competent is going to create a disadvantage for attractive men."
Pitesa said the discrimination wasn’t limited to shallow or superficial folks. “I was taken by the fact that people were unaware of [their bias],” said Pitesa. “People make these important job decisions and inferences about how competent people are just based on their physical attractiveness without having the slightest clue that they’re doing that.”
We floated the results by Daniel Hamermesh, professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful. He was dubious: “I have found only two cases, both for women, in the entire literature where being extremely gorgeous has a negative impact,” Hamermesh told Fusion.
Still, a small body of research does exist purporting to show ways in which good-looking men don't always have it super awesome and great. We’ve rounded up the studies below, in case you're curious. Sorry, handsome men, we still don’t feel sorry for you.
In a 2009 study, researchers at Arizona State University found that, sure, heterosexual women let their gaze linger on an attractive man—particularly if the women are ovulating—but their memory of the man will dissipate quickly.
The researchers analyzed eye movements of 112 female participants, and while those who were ovulating tended to spend more time looking at the faces of an attractive man (as opposed to an unattractive man, an attractive woman, and an unattractive woman), they didn't necessarily remember the face of the attractive man after the fact. Dime a dozen, those hotties.
In a 2015 study from Brunel University, participants were asked to gauge the egalitarianism of 125 body models "on a scale of 1 ('selfish and competitive') to 7 ('altruistic and egalitarian')."
The male body models who were both attractive and formidable (increased strength and muscularity) were perceived to be less egalitarian—simply based on their looks.
As it turned out, though, the attractive models (though not necessarily formidable men) actually were less egalitarian—they were less likely to give money to others in an economic game.
While hot dudes are deemed more competent based on their super hot hotness, unattractive men are assumed to be less competent. Because people set low expectations for the non-hotties, when they surpass those expectations (because they’re actually pretty competent), they’re rewarded.
This racket simply does not exist for hotties, though. They're starting at too high a level of assumed competency—and are penalized if their efforts fall short of their assumed ability.