A recently-released study concludes that good looks tend to improve a student’s chances of academic success, including better grades in high school, according to a CNN research column.
The study, led by a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, compared 8,918 students from around the country from high school until after they graduated from college. The study used controls like class difficulty and socioeconomic factors (i.e. parents’ educational backgrounds) to select students who were academically comparable. To avoid researchers’ personal biases on looks, the study used commonly-listed characteristics from surveys on attractiveness, like facial symmetry, to rate students’ physical appearance.
The researchers found that students with above-average attractiveness were three percentage points more likely to have finished a baccalaureate degree. Rachel A. Gordon, the lead researcher on the study, said that roughly a third of that difference stems from students’ grades in high school, according to a story in Inside Higher Ed.
This impact of physical attractiveness on academic success is fairly considerable, says the researchers’ briefing on the report published by the Council on Contemporary Families: “In fact, the difference in GPA and college graduation rates between youth rated by others as attractive versus average in looks is similar to the differences in academic achievement between youth raised in two-parent versus single-parent families!”
In addition to receiving better grades, people who are considered good looking are associated with better mental health and feelings of belonging in this age group, the report says.
Still, there are also disadvantages to being attractive. “Youth rated as more physically attractive are more likely to date, have sexual partners, and drink heavily,” the report says. “These factors, in turn, have negative consequences for immediate grades and later college completion.”
What, if anything, can be done to mitigate the “pervasive effects of looks” in schools, to use the researchers’ terminology? In the briefing report, Gordon writes that, to lesson the potential powerful of general impressions and categorizations, educators “might try bringing students and teachers together for meaningful interactions that cut across social cliques, and assess the extent to which such strategies help level the playing field for youth who are more and less attractive.”
University of Washington sociology professor Pepper Schwartz’s, author of the CNN column, says that teachers should be encouraged to become more “aware of their own tendency to give a higher grade or greater approval to a good-looking kid than to one that is not. We could all bring attention to slang that kids use to assess or denigrate another person’s looks.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.