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Ugly Economists

Summary:
In many professions, it is a huge advantage to be good-looking. In economics, one can be quite ugly and still honored—just look at a lot of photographs of Nobel laureates in economics sometime. As other professions draw in the especially good-looking folks because being good-looking is an advantage there, one can predict that economics will be left, at all levels, with folks who are less good-looking than other professionals. There is some evidence for this among academics, shown above. A nice blog post on “hotness” across disciplines can be found a few years back at crookedtimber.org.To me, it is a credit to

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Ugly Economists

In many professions, it is a huge advantage to be good-looking. In economics, one can be quite ugly and still honored—just look at a lot of photographs of Nobel laureates in economics sometime. As other professions draw in the especially good-looking folks because being good-looking is an advantage there, one can predict that economics will be left, at all levels, with folks who are less good-looking than other professionals. There is some evidence for this among academics, shown above. A nice blog post on “hotness” across disciplines can be found a few years back at crookedtimber.org.

To me, it is a credit to economics—or at least a blessing of economics—that it is the sort of discipline in which one can be successful despite being ugly. It points to an ability to determine reasonably well whether someone is doing good work, rather than have the quality of someone’s work often so unclear that one is tempted to rely on looks as a proxy for the quality of the work. Looking at the data, that certainly is not the only factor affecting the average hotness of those in a discipline, but it accounts for the data on quite a few disciplines, and then other interesting explanations come to mind for disciplines for which this doesn’t explain the data. (Look for particularly large advantages that good looks would give one in a discipline on the one hand, and an ability to blunt the negative effects of bad looks on the other hand.)

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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