Feb 162014

This Freakonomics: Reasons to Not Be Ugly episode takes a look at the “beauty premium” and, conversely, the downside of ugly. Do cuter babies get more attention? Are good-looking students graded more charitably? How do ugly people fare in the marriage and labor markets?



Stephen J. DUBNER: Dave Berri is a sports economist. He recently had a Skype chat with Suzie Lechtenberg, a producer on Freakonomics Radio.

Dave BERRI: Yeah, let’s look up Russell Wilson here.

Suzie LECHTENBERG: I’m going to look him up at the same time.

BERRI: So, he’s at 99.4.

DUBNER: There’s a computer program called Symmeter — a lot of plastic surgeons use it — where you can upload a photograph and it will tell you, on a scale of 100, just how attractive you are. As the name implies, the Symmeter score is based on how symmetrical your features are. The average human being is a 92. So, at 99.4, Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, is doing all right.

BERRI: So, is he good looking or not?

LECHTENBERG: Yeah. He’s cute. He is cute. He’s very symmetrical.

BERRI: He is very sym-that is the key, to be symmetrical… I think he works out.

LECHTENBERG: I think he does, too.

DUBNER: Berri and some colleagues were looking into the relationship between physical attractiveness and salary for NFL quarterbacks. This is the kind of thing economists have been doing for years …

BERRI: There’s this whole literature in economics on how beauty affects the evaluation of workers…

DUBNER: So Berri and his colleagues fed photographs of 194 NFL quarterbacks, past and present, into the program. Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons is a 99.8.

BERRI: So he’s very attractive by quarterback standards.

DUBNER: There’s also, of course, Mr. Bundchen:

BERRI: Tom Brady… who is at 98.98, or virtually 99.


DUBNER: Peyton Manning did much better than I would have thought – no offense, Peyton Manning – a 98.97…

BERRI: A little bit below Tom Brady.

DUBNER: Colin Kaepernick from the 49ers’ is a 98.7. Then there’s the Chicago Bears’ quarterback:


BERRI: Let’s see, where is Jay Cutler on our list?

DUBNER: Cutler does okay.

BERRI: There he is: 98.76. He’s about average, for a quarterback.

DUBNER: So what did these researchers learn about the relationship between quarterback looks and pay? First, we should point out the obvious and say that looks are very, very, very secondary to quarterback ability.

BERRI: It’s not as if you go and get Brad Pitt and you put him in a football uniform then he’s now a $20 million quarterback.

DUBNER: Okay, caveat noted. So what did they find?

BERRI: What we found is that a standard deviation change in symmetry, which was a 3.2 difference in the symmetry score, results in about a 12 percent increase in salary and that worked out to be $378,000 in additional pay. So being a more attractive quarterback led to, by the standards of the NFL, a small bump in pay.


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