It's not often that an academic study gets coverage on a website such as Bustle, whose main home page items at this writing includes "What Happens When You Use Tinder in the 1950s" and "How Different Does the 'Fuller House' Look?"
But the site — like more expected sources, such as Inside Higher Ed — recently published a piece in which writer Lara Rutherford-Morrison described scholarship from Rey Herna?ndez-Julia?n and Christina Peters, a pair of Metropolitan State University of Denver professors, as “Not-Terribly-Surprising-But-Still-Really-Depressing News."
Why? The study shows that attractive female students tend to get better grades than less-attractive females.
The paper, titled "Student Appearance and Academic Performance," is shared below; it's dated February 2015, but is only now getting attention following the authors' presentation of their finds at a conference in San Francisco this week.
Herna?ndez-Julia?n and Peters set out to discover if attractiveness, which has been shown to be a factor in job-hiring, among other things, also came into play in regard to grades.
Their methods involved having an anonymous group rate the attractiveness of nearly 7,000 MSU students based on their ID card photos, using a 1-10 scale, with ten denoting peak hotness. They then examined and compared the grades of the students in question.
What happened? "Our results indicate that female students with below-average ratings of appearance have significantly worse outcomes in traditional face-to-face courses, but their grades are not significantly different from those of better-looking students in online courses."
Sexy dudes didn't get the same bounce. "Male students, on the other hand, see no return to their appearance in either environment," they write, adding, "We interpret the fact that there is no significant return to appearance for any students in an online setting as evidence against the hypothesis that unobserved productivity is the mechanism for the return to appearance."
Why did attractive female students score approximately half a letter grade higher than their less genetically blessed women peers — numbers that held whether the professors were male or female? Herna?ndez-Julia?n and Peters offer this hypothesis:
Throughout the course of a semester, professors may pay less attention and offer less support to less attractive female students. As a result, these students learn less, accumulate less human capital, and perform worse in the evaluation of the course. The more attractive students do earn higher grades, but these higher grades are actually a result of higher learning. However, the reason they are learning more is again because of their appearance. In this case, appearance does produce more learning.
At the same time, the authors don't see their study as the final word on the topic or the potential extrapolation of the study's results to the post-collegiate landscape. Another excerpt reads:
We remain unable to separate the two paths through which discrimination may penalize those who are less attractive: either through harder grading, or through a lower accumulation of human capital. Further research should therefore focus on disentangling these two mechanisms. If professors are paying more attention to attractive students, helping them earn higher levels of human capital, there are clear implications to the return to appearance in labor markets. The higher earnings of more attractive individuals may not entirely be due to discrimination on the part of employers, but also at least partly due to the higher productivity gained as a result of discrimination by professors.
Look below to see a 7News report on the study, featuring an interview with Peters, followed by the document itself.