Vaasan yliopisto

Looks matter – handsome bank CEOs can earn a million more than their less attractive colleagues

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Research suggests that appearance significantly influences the compensation of chief executive officers in the banking sector. In American banks, CEOs with more attractive facial features earn, on average, one million dollars more per year than their less appealing colleagues.

Sami Vähämaa
– Our research findings indicate that appearance has a significant positive impact on the total compensation of bank CEOs and especially on their discretionary, performance-based compensation, says Professor Sami Vähämaa from the University of Vaasa, Finland. Credit: Harri Huusko, University of Vaasa (CC BY)

This insight comes from a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Vaasa and Hanken School of Economics, Finland. The study published in the Journal of Economics and Business examined the connection between the attractiveness of CEOs' facial features and their compensation in the banking sector.

– CEOs who are more attractive, on average, receive an annual total compensation approximately 24 percent higher than their less attractive colleagues, says Sami Vähämaa, professor of accounting and finance at the University of Vaasa.

Vähämaa’s research team included Mikko Ranta, associate professor of accounting, and Shaker Ahmed, project researcher from the University of Vaasa, along with Emilia Vähämaa, associate professor of finance from Hanken.

Beauty pays off in banking too

In their study, Vähämaa and his team talk about a beauty premium, that is extra compensation given to employees based on their pleasing appearance. When comparing individuals in the same profession and position, it has been observed that attractive employees, on average, earn more.

The research dataset included 167 U.S. banks and 272 individual CEOs. The researchers employed machine learning to objectively assess the facial appearance of the bank CEOs. Mikko Ranta constructed a machine-learning model for the study, which evaluated the CEOs' appearances on a scale from one to five.

The attractiveness scores generated by the machine-learning model were based on the subjective perceptions of beauty by a large group of people. A training dataset was created, consisting of a large number of facial images and subjective evaluations of the individuals' appearances.

– American bank CEOs form a highly homogeneous group: white males who are around 50 to 60 years old. We tested our machine-learning model on images of the actor George Clooney, who represents this age group and is generally considered attractive. The model gave him scores ranging from 4.2 to 4.5 depending on the image. In contrast, the average attractiveness score for bank CEOs' facial features was 2.7, explains Vähämaa.

The study revealed that the beauty premium in CEO compensation cannot be explained by demographic factors such as age, gender, or ethnic background. Therefore, the beauty premium, an extra reward based on pleasant appearance, exists even in the high-paying CEO job market.

– Good looks benefit bank CEOs. Our research findings indicate that appearance has a significant positive impact on the total compensation of bank CEOs and especially on their discretionary, performance-based compensation, concludes Vähämaa.

Further information

Professor Sami Vähämaa, University of Vaasa, Finland, tel. +359 29 449 8455, sami.vahamaa@uwasa.fi

  • Shaker Ahmed, Mikko Ranta, Emilia Vähämaa, Sami Vähämaa (2023) Facial attractiveness and CEO compensation: Evidence from the banking industry, Journal of Economics and Business, Volume 123, 2023  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeconbus.2022.106095

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Sami Vähämaa
Professor Sami Vähämaa, University of Vaasa, credit: Harri Huusko/ University of Vaasa (CC BY)
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Professor Sami Vähämaa, University of Vaasa
Professor Sami Vähämaa, University of Vaasa, credit: Harri Huusko, University of Vaasa (CC BY)
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Professor Sami Vähämaa, University of Vaasa
Professor Sami Vähämaa, University of Vaasa, credit: Harri Huusko / University of Vaasa (CC BY)
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University of Vaasa

The University of Vaasa is an international research university in Finland with 5,500 students and high-level expertise in business, technology, management, and communications.

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