Let’s face it, life isn’t always fair. There are a number of non-merit-based ways that a person can end up getting hired faster, being more often promoted and receiving higher salaries than their similarly qualified coworkers.

How can you be one of the lucky few? Unfortunately most of the ways are out of your control, but here’s how it’s done.

Being more attractive

Good looking people earn on average $230,000 more than their more homely coworkers over the course of their careers. This according to research done by Dr. Daniel Hamermesh, author of Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, and University of Texas economics professor.  

While it might seem to make sense that beautiful people would earn more in roles where good looks might be an asset, such as for media personalities, actors or spokespeople, it turns out that even in jobs where looks don’t play a factor, the attractive still earn more. Handsome NFL quarterbacks, for example, earn an average of $300,000 more than less attractive players with the same skills and stats.

“I think in a fairer world, beauty would not be so rewarded,” says Dr. Hamermesh. “But it is.”

Infographic: The benefits of beauty

Although be careful, you beautiful people. There has been recent evidence that you can actually be too attractive to be hired. 

Being a blonde woman

Why do blondes have more fun? Perhaps it is because they earn more money than women of other hair colours.  Dr. David Johnston a Queensland University of Technology researcher found that blonde women are paid 7 percent more than their brunette, redhead and black haired coworkers. If that weren’t enough, his study also found that blondes tend to marry wealthier men than other women.

“It seems the association between blondes and beauty dominates,” Johnson said. “This could explain why the ‘blondeness effect’ is evident in the marriage market.”

Being skinny (if you’re a woman) / Being a little hefty (if you’re a man)

As Elizabeth Bromstein recently wrote on Workopolis,  skinny women make more money than women of average weight. But, thinner men actually make less money than their larger male coworkers, who “earn more as they pack on the pounds – all the way to the point where they become obese, when the pay trend reverses,” writes the Sue Schellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Timothy A. Judge, of the University of Florida, reportedly looked at separate studies of 11,253 Germans and 12,686 Americans and found that women weighing 25 pounds less than the group average earned an average $15,572 a year more than women of normal weight. Women’s earnings diminished the more they weighed. A woman who gained 25 pounds above the average weight earned an average $13,847 less than an average-weight female.

The findings for men, however, went in the opposite direction. So thin males earned $8,437 less than average-weight men, and their pay went up as they got heavier. This ebbed as they hit obese levels.

The skinny on salary: How your weight affects your paycheque

Having a high IQ

It turns out that having a high IQ can increase your earnings by between $234 and $616 per year per IQ point, reports Ohio State University economics professor Jay Zagorsky in a paper called IQ and Wealth. While they might earn more, this doesn’t automatically guarantee that they’re going to be rich. Cautions Zargorsky, “I’ve known some certifiable geniuses who have been bankrupt.” It turns out that being smarter doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily smart with money.

Being born first

First they got all the pictures taken of them and all the attention from parents, then it turns out older siblings end up getting paid more as well. The Wall Street Journal recently reported the results of a survey indicating that first born children are far more likely to make over $100,000 per year than their siblings. Middle children, on the other hand more often reported being in entry-level jobs paying closer to $35,000, and last born kids climbed as high as middle-management positions.

Research has also shown that first born children tend to achieve higher education and have IQs that are on average three points higher than their second born brothers and sisters. And as we’ve already seen, each increase in IQ points can cause a similar increase in salary.

Standing tall

Tall people also earn more money than their shorter coworkers. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, also by Dr. Timothy A. Judge (who seems to study this stuff a lot) found that a person can earn an extra $789 per year for every inch above average height they are.

“The process of literally ‘looking down on others’ may cause one to be more confident,” Judge explains. “Similarly, having others ‘looking up to us’ may instill in tall people more self-confidence.”

There are workplace salary biases towards height, weight, birth order, beauty and IQ, but a common theme across them is in how these factors can affect a person’s confidence and ambition. Confident and ambitious people also tend to make more money.  

So, even if you are not a thin and statuesque, attractive, first born blonde woman with a high IQ, don’t worry.

Being extremely wealthy doesn’t buy happiness anyway. Recent studies have found that the price of happiness is actually about $75,000.  That’s the salary at which most people can afford to live comfortably with enough money left over to pursue their passions in life and save for the future. This frees them from some of the struggles of people earning less than $75k, while extra money earned above this level has less and less impact on overall wellbeing.


Peter Harris