It's Brains Before Beauty in the Lifetime Earnings Game

June 12, 2009 ( - A University of Florida study finds people with intelligence earn more in their lifetime than those who are self-confident or attractive.

The researchers found that after brains, self-confidence ranked second in importance, followed by beauty, according to a University news release. Timothy Judge, a UF management professor, along with UF graduate students Charlice Hurst and Lauren Simon, conducted the study, which is published in the May issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The researchers studied how intelligence, beauty and self-confidence affect income and financial strain. Results came from surveys of 191 men and women between the ages of 25 and 75 who participated in the National Midlife Development in the United States study.

Measures of intelligence were derived from a series of established tests and mental exercises, while self-confidence was determined from a 15-item questionnaire examining attitudes about one’s ability to cope with various life situations. Researchers judged attractiveness by rating personal photographs of the participants on a scale of one to seven.

By knowing men’s and women’s scores in the areas of intelligence, beauty and self-confidence, the researchers were able to accurately classify them into one of 35 income categories more than half the time, Judge said, according to the news release.

Judge suggested that brains rank first because intelligence is rewarded early in life with positive strokes from teachers, which boosts self-confidence and encourages future academic success. “Smart people do better in their careers because they are more likely to be educated and are more confident in their abilities,” he said. “And it’s also possible that smart people make better career choices, learn more on the job, negotiate for pay more effectively and adapt better to changes in the workplace.”

Part of the reason for attractive people’s success is their educational prospects are influenced by their looks, the study found. From an early age, studies show that good-looking students receive more teacher instruction and attention, while being punished less frequently, making them more likely to finish high school and attend college, according to Judge.