While past research has shown that a beauty premium exists in the labor force, authors Naci Mocan and Erdal Tekin study the effect of beauty in the other direction: crime. Incorporating data from around 15,000 students from 1994 to 2002, the authors investigate how much physical appearance is a factor in one’s propensity to commit a crime. While unattractiveness does have a positive correlation to crime, the more interesting finding was that high school beauty had a different impact as it effected human capital formation during high school years.
The data was from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) which comprised of interviews with young adults during their high school years and the beginning of their post-school life. Interviewing between 15,000 and 20,000 people, the Add Health asked questions on crimes committed in the past 12 months, personal questions that can influence crime such as age, race, health status and non-wage income and questions that considered socio-economic topics such as mother’s education, welfare status, family income, age of mother at birth and whether the father is biological or a step-parent. The final part of the interview consisted of the interviewer rating the physical beauty of the interviewee on a scale from 1 to 5. Add Health consisted of three waves of interviews: September 1994 to April 1995, 1996 and August 2001 to August 2002.
Utilizing past papers on beauty premium as a starting point, Mocan and Tekin hypothesized that less attractive people go into crime because it is more advantageous financially than entering the labor market where they would be penalized for being unattractive. Applying the information from the interviews in a regression, the authors find that males and females both have experience a positive correlation between unattractiveness and crime. The relationship even shows that being average looking makes one more likely to commit a crime than a very attractive person. When controlling for personal or family characteristics, the correlation still held, implying that beauty is uncorrelated with the controlled variables, including income.
Another factor that would facilitate the sorting of individuals into criminal activity is the justice system. Analyzing the link between crime, attractiveness and punishment (arrest, detention, conviction), the authors find that being a very attractive female makes one less likely to be detained, but has no impact on conditional arrests or conviction chances.
While beauty seems to be correlated with crime, Mocan and Tekin consider whether beauty might be a proxy for something else, like human capital formation in high school. As it turns out, high school beauty as a separate, independent effect on crime, which Mocan and Tekin attribute to the correlation between beauty and human capital formation. Female’s high school beauty has a significant effect on current crimes such as damaging property, assault and non-drug crimes, controlling for personal and family characteristics. Interestingly, including adult beauty does not change the impact of crimes committed, but adult beauty has a separate effect on five other crimes than those listed above. The effect is less pronounced for males.
Past research has shown that beauty influences teachers’ attitudes towards the student and socialization experiences. An adult achievement test given in wave III of Add Health highlights attractiveness’ relationship to achievements. If less attractive students face discrimination in high school from fellow students and teachers, their human capital formation could be impeded, resulting in more discrimination when they enter the work force.
To further test high school beauty on human capital, the authors create a model where crime is related to high school learning qualifiers (Wave I of Add health), such as GPA, suspensions, expulsions, problems with teachers, problems with other students and if the student felt a part of the school. Again, the effect is much more evident for females. GPA is negatively associated with current criminal activity while suspension and teacher problems increase the probability of committing a crime. When adding these high school qualifiers into the original regression, the correlation between high school beauty and crime decreases, implying that high school’s effect on current crimes is due to the relationship between high school beauty and learning experience. When controlling for high school qualifiers in males, the relationship between high school beauty and crime does not decrease, suggesting male’s attractiveness does not have as profound effect on later crimes as women’s beauty does.
At first, I was concerned of impartial beauty ratings from the interviewer, as each interviewer could have a different perception of beauty. The authors tested the ratings on interviewers sex, race, against the other interviewers ratings of the same personal and all showed no discrimination. Yet, then I began thinking about beauty and what it means to be beautiful. Attractiveness is a subjective topic, with everyone having differing views. Having different standards might make the study more realistic than less. A person is never judged exactly the same by two different people.
I would be interested to see if a similar study would hold up in Europe, where I have heard people aren’t as concerned with physical appearance. Looking briefly at any media source in the US, one can sense the US’s obsession with physical “perfection.” We judge subconsciously everyday. Although I had heard and witnessed benefits to the attractive, I find the negative attitudes towards the unattractive sad. Apparently in the US, we do judge a book by its cover.