stinchcombee practice round: beauties avoid bogeys

Recent reading about elite sport led me to an article finding that more attractive women have lower scores in women’s professional golf (HT: @KevinKniffin). From the abstract:

There is evidence that attractive looking workers earn more than average looking workers, even after controlling for a variety of individual characteristics. The presence of such beauty premiums may influence the labor supply decisions of attractive workers. For example, if one unit of a product by an attractive worker is more rewarded than that by her less attractive coworker, the attractive worker may put more effort into improving her productivity. We examine this possibility by analyzing panel data for individual female golfers participating in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. We found that attractive golfers recorded lower than average scores and earn more prize money than average looking players, even when controlling for player experience and other variables related to their natural talents.

It’s not a very convincing analysis: there are only 132 women golfers in the sample, and the effect involves this spline where really it’s a difference between the most attractive golfers and everyone else, and it’s unclear from the write-up whether the results are just a Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer effect. BUT, while reading it, I found it a good mental exercise to think about alternative explanations for the pattern if it was actually true (a la the Stinchcombe Test), so I’m posting this for anyone else who might enjoy the imagination workout.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

5 thoughts on “stinchcombee practice round: beauties avoid bogeys”

  1. Biological: the same physical properties that lead to beauty lead to performance. Top biological variables include: height, left/right symmetry, length of extremities.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny, I originally read the post wrong and was spinning out ex post stories to explain my misreading:

    – biological: androgens both make women less conventionally attractive and give them upper body strength, spatial reasoning, etc, to be better golfers and even if such effects are small on average they could have outsized effects on ratios in the right-tail.

    – social: better looks gives more sponsorships which lets even mediocre talents persist in the field rather than dropping out and so you get a conditioning on a collider negative bias.

    Of course it turns out the beta goes the other way and so these are obviously wrong (or at least swamped by other mechanisms going the other way), and that boys and girls is why the good Lord created the two-tailed test. Moreover I think it’s especially important to be careful about biological ex post stories, even though I’m open to them in principle.

    On a related note, I’m gonna guess that nobody else here buys the happy Scandinavian genes story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. On a related note, I’m gonna guess that nobody else here buys the happy Scandinavian genes story.

      Yeah, in a world where I just go all-in on correcting the behavioral science record as a life project, I would likely be decrying that study with hurricane-name-study force. But, as it is, I just read the abstract and rolled my eyes.


  3. Causation in the other direction: aside from the extremes, much of the variation in attractiveness is achieved, and expensive stylists (and PR folks) can achieve a lot. Female athletes moving up in the rankings experience more push/pull to improve their sex appeal for sponsorships.

    Or, maybe its just that winning is sexy.

    Liked by 1 person

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