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Work by Swedish researchers suggests that the grades of attractive female students are boosted by a “beauty premium” which they lost when classes moved online during lockdown, while the grades of attractive male students were unaffected.


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In a research paper titled ‘Student beauty and grades under in-person and remote teaching’, Adrian Mehic of Lund University examined “the role of student facial attractiveness on academic outcomes under various forms of instruction” by having a “jury” of 74 people rate the looks of 307 engineering students from 1 (extremely unattractive) to 10 (extremely attractive).

Mehic found that there did indeed appear to be a so-called “beauty premium” for attractive students, with both males and females receiving higher grades “in courses with significant teacher-student interaction” — at least, when education was in-person.

After education moved online during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, there was a significant fall in the grades of attractive female students, with roughly 80 per cent of the “beauty premium” imparted by their looks evaporating.

The grades of attractive male students, curiously, were unaffected.

“The pandemic provided us with a great opportunity to disentangle whether this beauty premium is due to discrimination or the result of some productive attribute,” explained Mehic in comments quoted by The Times.

In his paper, the Swede said that his findings suggested that, for women, “the beauty premium in education is due to discrimination” — that is, discrimination in their favour, with educators awarding them higher grades than they otherwise would have due to their looks.

For male students, however, he suggested that, because the “beauty premium” persisted after the move to remote learning, they are benefiting “primarily [from] a productivity-enhancing attribute” linked to their looks.

He noted, for example, that past research has linked attractiveness to greater self-confidence, and that as a result “attractive men are more successful in peer influence, and are more persistent, a personality trait positively linked to academic outcomes.”

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