Do you have an erotic capital? Do you spend time preening and pimping yourself, in the belief that looking good will grant you certain opportunities? Do you wave it off as a sexist term coined to make women feel as objects rather than complete human beings? But then of course even men can have erotic capital. Michelle and Barack Obama have it. Carla Bruni and David Beckham have it. Michael Jordan has even made a career from it. So great is the advantage “erotic capital” can bring to the labour marketÃ¢â‚¬â€especially in sport, the arts, media and advertisingÃ¢â‚¬â€that it often outweighs educational qualifications.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a term coined to refer to a nebulous but crucial combination of physical and social attractiveness. Properly understood, erotic capital is what economists call a “personal asset,” ready to take its place alongside economic, cultural, human and social capital. It is just (if not more) as important for social mobility and success.
The economic benefits of being physically and socially attractive can be substantial, especially in marketing, public relations, television, advocacy in the courts, as well as for actors, singers and dancers. But itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s broader than this: people working in the better-paid parts of the private sector are more attractive than those in the public and non-profit sectors. According to internet research, tall and attractive people are more likely to be employed in professional jobs, like law or banking. For the ugly and short, it gets worse. Good-looking people can earn 10 to 15 percent more than the average-looking, who in turn can earn 10 to 15 percent more than the plain or ugly. The tall earn more than the short; the obese have earnings 10 to 15 percent below average. Statistical analysis shows this beauty premium is not really just about cleverly disguised differences in intelligence, social class or self-confidence.
Studies of lawyers reveal that there is always a premium for attractiveness that varies in size, but is not due to employer discrimination. The most attractive can earn 12 percent more than the unattractive, and are 20 percent more likely to achieve partnership in their firm, because they are more effective at pulling in customers.
Indeed, there is a 25 percentage point difference in average earnings between unattractive and attractive minorities. This impact can be as big as the gap between having a degree and no qualifications at allÃ¢â‚¬â€although it ranks well below intelligence as a determinant of life outcomes.
Intriguingly, this means erotic capitalÃ¢â‚¬â€if seen as an economic endowmentÃ¢â‚¬â€is an especially important asset for people with few intellectual abilities and qualifications. In Brazil, investing in cosmetic surgery is seen as a sensible way of getting ahead in a culture where looks and sensuality count. In Britain, too, a 2009 survey of teenage girls found that one-quarter think it is more important to be beautiful than clever.
Like it or not, erotic capital is now as valued as economic and human capital. Are you game?