Beholding inequality: Race, gender, and returns to physical attractiveness in the united states

Ellis P. Monk, Michael H. Esposito, Hedwig Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Physical attractiveness is an important axis of social stratification associated with educational attainment, marital patterns, earnings, and more. Still, relative to ethnoracial and gender stratification, physical attractiveness is relatively understudied. In particular, little is known about whether returns to physical attractiveness vary by race or significantly vary by race and gender combined. In this study, we use nationally representative data to examine whether (1) socially perceived physical attractiveness is unequally distributed across race/ethnicity and gender subgroups and (2) returns to physical attractiveness vary significantly across race/ethnicity and gender subgroups. Notably, the magnitude of the earnings disparities along the perceived attractiveness continuum, net of controls, rivals and/or exceeds in magnitude the black-white race gap and, among African-Americans, the black-white race gap and the gender gap in earnings. The implications of these findings for current and future research on the labor market and social inequality are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-241
Number of pages48
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

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