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Published: Feb 06, 2024 4 min read
Photo-illustration of a beautiful woman holding her baby, who is made out of money.
Olive Burd / Money; Getty Images

If time is money, well, then so is beauty. And that’s especially the case when it comes to... your parents?

In fact, yes. By having biologically “hot” parents, a new study finds, you’re estimated to earn substantially more money than people with regular 'rents — and far more than those with below-average-looking ones.

Economic research has long linked one’s conventional attractiveness to success in the workplace. (Pretty people are often paid more, get better jobs and get promoted more quickly.) But a working paper published recently by the National Bureau of Economic Research, or NBER, takes that one step further by quantifying exactly how much it pays to be part of a comely clan.

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“In monetary terms,” the researchers wrote, having parents who are considered conventionally attractive “amounts to over $2,300 per annum, or an extra $106,000 of income over an average working life.”

The advantages of attractive parents are twofold, explains report co-author and NBER researcher Daniel Hamermesh, who’s studied the connection between earnings and attractiveness for decades.

First, in what he calls “direct” benefits of having beautiful parents: You will likely be more attractive yourself and “that enables you to earn more,” he tells Money in an email. Second, your attractive parents are likely to have earned more money due to their attractiveness — and thus have more money to give to you. Cha-ching.

‘Hot parents, rich kid?’

Hamermesh and co-author Anwen Zhang made the discovery by first demonstrating that the beauty of one’s parents is, in fact, passed down to their kids. They analyzed four datasets from the U.S. and China, in which people were shown pictures or videos of parents and their kid(s) and asked to rate their attractiveness.

Their analysis found that parents whose attractiveness was rated 10 percentage points above average had biological children who were considered to be 4 percentage points more attractive than average. The researchers then matched those findings with household income data to determine exactly how lucrative those good looks were.

Despite the paper’s playful subtitle — “Hot Parents, Rich Kid?” — Hamermesh refers to the findings as “depressing” because they lead to the perpetuation of inequality. While attractive people and their offspring tend to earn more money than average-looking folks, he says the opposite is also true.

“If your parents are both in the lowest third of looks, you will earn about $2,300 per year less than someone whose parents are both average,” Hamermesh says.

And, of course, that income gap could expand to more than $4,600 per year — or over $200,000 in average lifetime earnings — when comparing incomes between people with above-average looking parents to those with below-average looking parents.

“This cross-generational impact accounts for a substantial part of inherited inequality,” he says. "It is disturbing to find yet another characteristic that reduces opportunity across generations."

In other words, racial and social inequalities are embedded in society’s perception of who is and isn’t beautiful. And if you don’t fit the mold, it may literally cost your family thousands of dollars.

More from Money:

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How to Ask for a Raise — and Get It — This Year

The Gender Pay Gap Won't Close for Another 33 Years (at Least): Report

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