Less Attractive Female Students Get Lower Grades, Study Shows


A new study from the Metropolitan State University of Denver suggests that unattractive women receive lower grades than their more attractive peers.

Researchers also looked at male students, finding that physical attractiveness did not affect their grades.  The study noted that both male and female professors were guilty of giving less attractive women lower grades.

Student identification photos were used for the study to rate physical attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10.  People who were not students or faculty members were asked to rate the photos.  Women considered to be of similar academic quality were then separated into three groups, including average, more attractive, and less attractive, writes Javier Espinoza for The Telegraph.  Factors including ACT scores were used to control for student academic ability.

The two economists who performed the study then looked at 168,092 course grades.

According to researchers, the attractiveness gap appears to be a larger issue with lower grades for less attractive women than higher grades for more attractive women.  The study found that the least attractive third of the women in the study received, on average, a course grade that was 0.067 grade points (on a 4.0 scale) below the grades earned by other students, which was referred to as a statistically significant gap.  In comparison, the group of students considered to be more attractive earned an average grade that was 0.024 grade points higher than other students.  This was considered to be small and not statistically significant.

One of the economists, Rey Hernández-Julián, said the results were “troubling.”  He noted there were two possibilities for the difference in grades.

“Is it that professors invest more time and energy into the better-looking students, helping them learn more and earn the higher grades? Or do professors simply reward the appearance with higher grades given identical performance?  The likely answer, given our growing understanding of the prevalence of implicit biases, is that professors make small adjustments on both of these margins.”

Researchers also looked at online offerings at Metro State, finding that the attractiveness gap disappears for similar groups of students who participate in courses online.  Results for male students were found to be the same whether they took a class in-person or online.  The paper states that the higher grades for less attractive students online suggests that the lower grades received for in-person courses cannot be attributed to another factor that could cause legitimate lower grades.

The book Physical Attractiveness and the Accumulation of Social and Human Capital in Adolescence and Young Adulthood: Assets and Distractions took a closer look into this topic in 2013, finding that students considered to be attractive in high school were more likely to earn a four-year degree than those students found to be average-looking or below average, writes Scott Jaschik in Slate.

The study was performed by economists Rey Hernández-Julián and Christina Peters.  The Metropolitan State University of Denver is an open-enrollment institution with non-traditional aged students.