Our capitalistic Western culture prides itself on the American dream: anyone can live the life they want to live, so long as they work hard enough to achieve it. And many people in the professional world would agree with this, at least to some degree — the more experience you have, the more money you tend to make and positions that require more education or more training pay higher as well.
Of course, that probably doesn't explain why Becky-down-the-hall makes more money than you do even though you do the same job, or why you started with a higher salary than Roger, who had the same level of experience. Were these random discrepancies? Favoritism? Or are some people just predisposed to make more money than others?
Race and Gender
Though naysayers are persistent in trying to illustrate the gender pay gap as a myth, empirical evidence consistently suggests it's a reality. The American Association of University Women took data from the United States Census Bureau to review whether there's truth to the "80 percent" statistic that's usually mentioned in discussions on pay inequality. And the numbers are in; women still make, on average, 80 percent what men make. This is the statistic for full-time employees of both genders, and it's not changing anytime soon; experts estimate that at this rate, the pay gap won't close until the 2150s.
This pay gap persists no matter what level of education, race or background a woman has — but there are some differences between races. For example, the pay gap between Hispanic/Latino men and women is 92 percent, while for white men and women, it's 76 percent. Still, on average, white women make more than men or women of African American, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian or American Indian backgrounds.
The bottom line? White and Asian American individuals tend to make more than any other race, and men tend to make more than women, regardless of their education, backgrounds, or achievements.
You might be able to lose weight, put on makeup, or trim your beard, but ultimately, your facial structure and body type are determined by your genes — and they may have a significant effect on how much money you're able to earn.
According to a study of both American and Canadian workers, "attractive" employees typically make between 12 and 14 percent more than their "unattractive" counterparts. And of course, these findings have been replicated in multiple other applications; one study of American real estate agents found that as realtors rated higher on an attractiveness scale, they sold properties for higher and higher values. There are a number of theories for why this effect exists — it may be due to the "halo effect," where one positive quality (such as attractiveness) favorably distorts people's perceptions of your other qualities, or it might be that attractive people conduct themselves with higher confidence, though it's probably some combination of smaller factors like these.
There is some dispute to these findings, however; one review found that when controlled for factors like health, intelligence, and the "big five" personality traits, the "attractiveness gap" disappears. Beyond that, they found that highly unattractive people may actually make more than their beautiful counterparts, as a so-called "ugliness premium."
There's also a body of research to suggest that taller people make more money than their shorter counterparts, especially in men. Researchers found that for every increase in height of 5 centimeters (approximately 2 inches), men could expect to make $950 more per year, on average. That may not seem like much compared to the gender gap, but a height difference of just 7 inches, compounded over a lifetime, could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Researchers found that taller people are perceived to be more intelligent and powerful, and may be more confident than their shorter counterparts as well.
Though the nature vs. nurture debate still rages on, there's a strong body of evidence to suggest that much of our personality is predetermined by our genetic makeup — and those personality traits can affect how much we earn.
For example, one study found that less agreeable men make up to 18 percent more than their agreeable counterparts (the gap was 5 percent for women). This could be because less agreeable people are more likely to aggressively negotiate for things like starting salaries, raises and bonuses. And, whether you're in favor of the Myers-Briggs personality spectrum or adamantly against it, ESTJ and ENTJ personality types made an average of $77,000 and $76,000 per year, respectively, compared to lower-end performers like INTP types, which made $36,000 on average. Extroverts tend to make more than introverts, possibly because they have wider networks of contacts and are more successful in positions that demand communication, and "thinking" personality types made more than "feeling" personality types.
The Bottom Line
There are merits for your achievements, and you do have the power to increase your salary as you gain more experience and wisdom — don't let the headline fool you. However, there are some predispositions that your race, gender, height, attractiveness and personality will have in store for you. Since many of these effects are secondary (such as height being mistakenly associated with intelligence), you can close the gap by working on your self-presentation, and of course, you'll need to remember that all of these figures are averages. Still, it's important to be aware of how our biases and culture affect our earnings, and what we can do to mitigate those effects.
Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business and entrepreneurship.