Physical appearance bias occurs when a person is discriminated against because of physical attributes. In hiring and the workplace, studies show that conventionally attractive individuals have an advantage over their less attractive counterparts.
For example, attractive people can be perceived to be more intelligent, and overweight individuals can be perceived to be lazy. Some examples of attributes that can spark appearance biases include:
Hair color (study)
Unfashionable style of dress
Generally, people tend to associate attractiveness with positivity, and this bias influences hiring decisions, as well as opportunities for growth or promotion within an organization. A 2021 meta-analysis reviewed 65 empirical studies that revealed how height and attractiveness play a role in hiring and promotion.
While appearance biases typically benefit attractive people, appearance biases can also work against people who are considered above average in attractiveness. An American Psychological Association (APA) study showed that hiring managers are hesitant to consider conventionally beautiful people for positions considered less desirable, such as housekeepers or warehouse workers. In this scenario, the bias presents because hiring managers assume that overly attractive people will be discontent with low-paying jobs that lack glamour. Highly attractive people also often feel that they're not taken seriously.
Suppose a company has two equally qualified applicants in terms of education, credentials, experience, and skills. If one of those candidates is overweight and the other candidate is slim, the thinner candidate will often be hired. According to a LinkedIn study in 2018 of 4,000 U.K. adults, 25% of overweight people felt overlooked in job promotions or opportunities.
Another example is when a recruiter uses phrases such as:
“This candidate fits the company’s aesthetic.”
“They will give a good impression to our clients.”
“This candidate is a good face for our company’s brand.”
When this type of language is used, appearance bias or beauty bias may be occurring.
is the belief that beautiful people are more prone to success. Beauty bias encourages a hiring manager to prefer physically attractive candidates even though a person's physical appearance does not affect their ability to perform a job.
occurs when an individual is judged because they are significantly taller or shorter than a person of socially-accepted height. Men are disproportionally more affected by height bias than women. A study published by the University of Connecticut in 2020 showed that employers are reluctant to hire applicants who are short, and employers perceive taller candidates as being more competent. Moreover, shorter individuals are less likely to be promoted.
is a term first introduced in a paper published in the Journal of Industrial Relations and authored by researchers in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. The term refers to discrimination experienced by people who aren't deemed sufficiently physically attractive.