Daniel S Hamermesh, University of Texas at Austin - 'O Youth and Beauty:' Children's Looks and Children's Cognitive Development

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Title: 'O Youth and Beauty:' Children's Looks and Children's Cognitive Development

Abstract: We use data from the 11 waves of the U.S. Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD), 1991-2005, following children from ages 6 months through 15 years. Videos of the children were rated by observers to obtain measures of overall looks at each age. The study examines how, given their backgrounds (family income, parents’ education, race/ethnicity and gender), being better-looking at each age affects changes in the scores on measurements of various objective learning outcomes—mostly achievement tests in math, reading, etc.—the value-added due to looks at each age. First-order autoregressions show that the gains in good-looking children’s scores across waves are greater than those of worse-looking children, implying a long-run impact on cognitive achievement of about 0.04 standard deviations per standard deviation of differences in looks. Similar estimates on changes in reading and arithmetic test scores at ages 7, 11 and 16 in the U.K. National Child Development Survey 1958 cohort show larger effects. These extra gains persist when controlling for teacher ratings of their closeness to the child and maternal ratings of the child’s behavior and his/her victimization by bullies. We use results from both data sets to measure the additional economic returns to beauty resulting indirectly from its effects on test scores and hence educational attainment. They suggest that these effects account for a substantial portion of the returns to education.

Presenter: Daniel S Hamermesh, University of Texas at Austin

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