I have always wondered why bankers, stock brokers, salesman, corporate executives, business school students, individuals appearing for job interviews and now even journalists wear a necktie, in the heat and humidity of India. Common sense clearly is not at work here. Or is it?
A necktie doesn’t really cover any part of the human anatomy that isn’t already covered like clothes do and does not have any other utility, like a handkerchief. Though the story goes that in Elizabethan England, lawyers in London used to wear a tie to clean their running noses because there wasn’t enough time to take out their handkerchiefs during the middle of a heated argument.
But that was back in the Elizabethan era. What is the utility of wearing a necktie now? Sheena Iyengar in the book The Art of Choosing just might have an explanation for it. “Highly attractive people of both sexes earn at least 12% more than their less attractive coworkers. In fact, physical appearance has a greater impact even than job qualifications on whether a person will be hired following a job interview.”
So the common perception is that wearing a necktie is a part of making oneself presentable and more attractive. But wearing a necktie is just a part of the story. There are other factors at work that influence salaries. A major factor other than appearance is height. Several studies over the years have shown that height and salary are positively correlated. This is true “especially for men, who earn 2.5% more per inch of additional height,” writes Iyengar.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology a few years back came to the conclusion that every inch may be worth $789 per year more on an average when it came to salaries. It also suggested that a person who is 6 feet tall is likely to earn $166,000 more than someone who is 5 feet 5 inches tall, over a 30 year career.
In fact Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book Blink takes this argument to another level. “I polled about half of the companies on the Fortune 500 list, asking each company q u e s t i o n s about its CEO. In my sample, I found that on average CEOs were just a shade under six feet. Given that the average American male is 5’9″ that means that CEOs, as a group, have about three inches on the rest of their sex. But this statistic actually understates matters. In the U.S. population, about 14.5% of all men are six feet or over. Among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, that number is 58%. Even more strikingly, in the general American population, 3.9% of adult men are 6’2″ or taller. Among my CEO sample, 30% were 6’2″ or taller,” writes Gladwell.
Now there is no conspiracy at work to ensure that the shorter guys earn lesser money or are kept out of leadership positions. This is an unconscious prejudice where the tendency is to associate the ability to lead people or do a job well with physical stature and thus ignore other traits required for leadership positions.
Timothy A Judge, one of the researchers of the height-salary link, feels there are evolutionary reasons for the same. “Perhaps when humans were in the early stages of organisation, they used height as an index for power in making ‘fight or flight’ decisions. They ascribed leader-like qualities to tall people because they thought they would be better able to protect them. Evolutionary psychologists would argue that some of those old patterns still operate in our perceptions today,” he writes. Also the height premium is more at work at the leadership and managerial level rather than for blue collar positions.
Physical attractiveness has a lot to do with winning elections as well. “A 2007 study showed that about 70% of elections were won by the candidate whom people rated as more competent based solely on their appearance – even when they saw the candidate’s photograph for only a tenth of a second,” writes Iyengar.
But when it comes to jobs, other than physical attractiveness and height there are other factors at work as well. Like the colour of your skin or your caste for that matter.
A study carried out by Marianne Bertrand of the Chicago University and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University (the paper was titled Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal) found that if you had a white sounding name you had a 50% more chance of a callback for an interview vis-a-vis an African American sounding name.
In an Indian version of the same study carried out by Abhijit Banerjee, Marianne Bertrand, Saugato Datta and Sendhil Mullainathan, around Delhi, it was found that there was significant discrimination when it came to callback rates for jobs for upper castes vis a vis other backward classes and to a lesser extent against scheduled castes. We would like to believe that it’s our merit and ability that gets us where we are in our professional lives, but that is not always the case as evidence clearly points out.
Those who have worked in the media would know that people from two particular states, one in the east and one in the south, tend to fill up newsrooms more than people from other parts of India. Why is that the case? Now that’s something worth thinking about for messers Banerjee and Mullainathan.