Here's Another Reason Why Pretty People May Be Better Off Financially

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Beauty Portrait. Hairstyle
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By Shana Lebowitz

Researchers have long suspected that people who are more attractive than average earn more money.

They call it the "beauty bias," and they've found that good-looking people are more likely to be hired and promoted than their plain peers.

In the last few years, some researchers have started studying how the beauty bias factors into charitable giving. A new study highlights the role that attractiveness plays in investor behavior on the peer-to-peer microfinance site Kiva.According to the research, led by Christina Jenq, Ph.D., at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and cited on The Atlantic, thin, attractive, light-skinned women are most likely to receive funding.

For the study, researchers had coding assistants from different parts of the world rate thousands of photographs of borrowers on how attractive they were, their skin color, and their body type. All the borrowers had sought loans during the month of June 2009.

Results showed that lenders were partial to female borrowers: An all-women group was funded 65% to 81% faster than an all-men group.

What's more, the study found that, for a loan of $700, attractive borrowers received a financial "bonus": They were treated as though they were asking for $60 less. Meanwhile, other borrowers experienced "penalties": Overweight people were treated as though they were asking for $65 more, and darker-skinned people were treated as though they were asking for $40 more. (All the loans in the study were ultimately fully funded — it was just a question of how quickly.)

The researchers examined whether any of these qualities were associated with the likelihood of defaulting on a loan — they weren't. The lenders were just being influenced by their biases, perhaps unconsciously.

The tendency to fund attractive women was more pronounced among less experienced lenders. In other words, lenders' experience may override some of their biases toward attractive borrowers, possibly because they have a better idea of who is really most and least likely to return their loan.

To be sure, the researchers also found that attractiveness wasn't the top predictor of funding speed — women borrowers and those from the world's poorest regions got funded the quickest.

Yet the findings on borrowers' physical characteristics are supported by other research, which found that minority fundraisers going to door-to-door are significantly less likely to receive contributions — even when they approach a minority household. Similarly, attractive women solicitors receive more and greater donations in door-to-door fundraising experiments.

The researchers behind the Kiva study have a hunch that lenders were overwhelmed by the number of choices on the website, and relied on unconscious stereotypes in order to choose whom to fund. Since 2009, Kiva has tried to remedy that by adding new features such as statistics about the field partner through which borrowers are seeking loans.

That these biases are implicit doesn't mean they're impossible to conquer. Simply being aware of the fact that you might be more inclined to give money to a slim blonde is a step forward.

Of course, you don't have to explicitly avoid funding people you find attractive — but you may want to carefully consider which candidate is most worthy of your money.
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