As a (natural) blonde, I have heard my fair share of "dumb blonde" jokes, ranging from the insidious to the relatively harmless. "How do you keep a blonde busy for hours?" (Write 'Please turn over' on both sides of a piece of paper.) "What do you call a blonde behind the steering wheel of a car?" (An air bag.) The list goes on.
But a new study suggests that blondes are the ones having the last laugh. Research by David W. Johnston, a postdoctoral fellow at the Queensland University of Technology, School of Economics and Finance, indicates that there is a "pretty premium" for blondes in the work force.
As the stereotype goes, blond women are thought to be more attractive but less intelligent than other women. Johnston wondered if these perceived traits had an impact, positive or negative, on blondes' wages.
Using the 1979 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which interviewed 12,686 Americans annually from 1979 to 1994 and biennially from 1994 to 2006, Johnston looked at the incomes of Caucasian women over the age of 25 who self-identified as naturally light blond or blond. He found that naturally blond women (regardless of their current hair colors) both make more than other women and marry richer than other women.
In fact, blondes make on average 7 percent more than non-blondes, about equal to the income boost attained by an extra year of education. And blondes marry people who make approximately 6 percent more than the spouses of women with other hair colors.
Johnston found few other clear differences between women: There were no systematic differences in educational attainment, immigrant status or marital status based on hair color. He argues that productivity-related characteristics don't appear to drive the differences in wages by hair color; rather, there appears to be a beauty premium for blondes.
Previous research by Markus M. Mobius and Tanya S. Rosenblat attributes the beauty premium to attractive workers being more confident, having greater communication and social skills, and being considered by employers as more productive.
Johnston argues that if the increased earnings are related to attractiveness, blondes would be more productive workers if they have jobs that require them to frequently interact with co-workers or customers. (A 2008 study found that blondes were more successful fundraisers, dollar for dollar, than their brunette counterparts.) He didn't find evidence that the wage premium was occupation-specific, but admits that without a solid determination of which jobs can be done more productively by good-looking people, he cannot be certain.
The effect of hair color on income and spousal income could be even greater than this study shows, Johnston points out, because current blondes who are naturally brunettes could be making more money than the other women in the brunette category. Presumably, there are more brunettes masquerading as blondes than there are blondes hiding their roots.
On the marriage front, he says, it is reasonable to assume that because blond women are more attractive and make more money, they are more successful in marrying more desirable men.
Perhaps "dumb blondes" do pretty well for themselves after all.