Monday, December 01, 2014

Hakim, Attractiveness, and Voting

We had Catherine Hakim give a talk at our department seminar (C2G2) last week, based on her controversial book Honey Money. I haven't, to be honest, read the book itself, so wasn't sure what to expect. The idea that attractive people benefit from their attractiveness in all sorts of ways sounds like a typical case of much academic research being done to prove the bleeding obvious, but I think Hakim does raise important issues.

Some people had been uneasy about the invitation, I believe because they thought that Hakim's research was somehow anti-feminist. In fact, she did a good job of emphasizing that her findings apply to both men and women, using Barack Obama as one of her main examples (though she did note some particular issues of concern to women - apparently women, on average, possess more 'erotic capital' then men, but are less effective in exchanging it for other goods). I thought she might try drawing all kinds of unwarranted normative conclusions, such as suggesting that women should exploit their erotic capital in order to get ahead (which I believe is the message of Lean In), but I was pleased that Hakim didn't in fact seem to make any normative claims at all, merely to present her findings on the effects of attractiveness.

Attractive people, she said, are likely to earn 10-20% more and also to win around 15% more votes in elections. (Other studies have also suggested that Beauty Pays.) On almost any account of justice, this seems like an injustice - and one that hasn't gone unnoticed, particularly by the 'ugly'.

It's interesting to see that BBC coverage of this book raises the issue of attractiveness in elections (although suggesting that the effect is only 2%).

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