A primer on Sexonomics

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

With unemployment at record levels, guess what academic economists from coast to coast are devoting their energies to studying?

In The Chronicle Review on December 11, 2011, Rachel Shteir, an associate professor at the Theatre School at DePaul University, helpfully separates the scholars from the crackpots in the burgeoning field of sexonomics. “In the law corner is Daniel S. Hamermesh’s Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, which calls people who aren’t beautiful ‘The Ugly’ or ‘Looks-Challenged’ and argues that they merit affirmative action,” Shteir wrote. “In the exploit-the-marketplace corner is Catherine Hakim’s Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom, which defines ‘erotic capital’ as a mysterious force that women possess and men want and contends that women should manipulate it to compensate for being less well compensated than men are for their looks.”

“To advance their arguments and challenge common wisdom, the books’ main weapon is number-crunching. Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, calls his field ‘pulchronomics.’” Shteir herself  is  the author of The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting (Penguin Press).

“In one study Hamermesh cites, people invited to rate the beauty of subjects judge the majority, well, average looking,” Shteir relates. “In another, older people are viewed as less beautiful than younger ones.”

“ Hakim, a sociologist and senior research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies, in London, calls her field ‘sexonomics.’ She summarizes others’ theories and sometimes draws her own conclusions, which can be trenchant though predictable, as when she rails against the academy for slavish politically correct attitudes about gender and its political correctness in general. But Hakim can also be just plain off-the-wall, as in her one-liner that Canadian women care less about their appearance than American women do.”

“Also attacking the question of beauty are Deborah L. Rhode, the grand dame of beauty studies and a professor of law at Stanford Law School, in the classic 2010 The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law; Ashley Mears, an assistant professor of sociology at Boston University, in Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model; and Marianne LaFrance, a professor of psychology at Yale University, in Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex and Politics.”

We may just run a poll asking our readers how many of them have heard of “the grand dame of beauty studies.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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