1. Attractive men earn 9 percent more money than unattractive men; attractive women earn 4 percent more money than unattractive women.
"There is a significant penalty for bad looks among men," write the economists whose research yielded these statistics. "Men who are viewed as being below average or homely are penalized" when it comes to wages. Noting that many studies have been done on workplace discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, these scholars undertook "the first study of the economics of discrimination in the labor market against yet another group—the ugly."
Daniel S. Hamermesh and Biddle, Jeff E. (1994): Beauty and the Labor Market. American Economic Review, 84 (5), 1174-1194.
2. Individuals with above-average IQs are only 1.2 times as likely as individuals with below-average IQs to have a high net worth.
Few people with below-average IQs earn high incomes, but relatively large numbers of them are wealthy, according to the study that yielded this stat. "Smarter people tend to be paid more, but that doesn't necessarily mean they end up with more wealth," says the study's author, Ohio State University economics professor Jay Zagorsky. In other words, being smart about neurosurgery or nuclear fission doesn't necessarily make one smart about money. "I've known some certifiable geniuses who have been bankrupt."
Jay L. Zagorsky (2007): "Do You Have to Be Smart to Be Rich? The Impact of IQ on Wealth, Income and Financial Distress." Intelligence, 35 (5), 489-501.
3. People who were popular in high school earn 10 percent more than people who weren't.
Popularity pays, according to a study examining the effects of what academics call "friendship nomination"—that is, how many people claim you as their friends, not how many people you claim as friends. Every friend you had in high school is worth another 2 percent increase in adult wages. "Shifting somebody from the bottom fifth to the top fifth of the school popularity distribution—in other words, turning a social reject into a star—would be predicted to yield him a 10 percent wage advantage," write the economists who conducted this study.
Gabriella Conti, Andrea Galeotti, Gerrit Mueller, Stephen Pudney (2009): "Popularity." Institute for Social and Economic Research working paper.
4. Graduates of Princeton University and Dartmouth College earn salaries 162 percent higher, on average, than graduates of East Texas Baptist University.
Mid-career median salaries for both Princeton and Dartmouth grads are $123,000, according to the job-market report containing these figures. For ETBU grads, it's $47,000. But that still beats Coker College grads, who earn $40,300—putting them at the bottom of this survey. Harvard kids go on to make $121,000, while Brown and Berkeley grads earn $109,000. Who makes the most? Graduates of Harvey Mudd College, the math-science-engineering arm of Southern California's Claremont Colleges, at $126,000 a year.
2010-11 College Salary Report: Top U.S. Colleges - Graduate Salary Statistics. A PayScale Report.
5. For every three inches taller than average they are, women earn 5 to 8 percent more money than women of average height; men earn 4 to 10 percent more for every extra three inches in height.
The study that includes these figures was done in Australia, where the premiums for added height are only about half of those in the U.S., according to the authors. "It's definitely easier for taller people to be noticed and to command attention," says Alan Corey, author of A Million Bucks by 30: How to Overcome a Crap Job, Stingy Parents, and a Useless Degree to Become a Millionaire Before (or After) Turning 30. "These are two great advantages for ladder-climbers."
Michael Kortt and Leigh, Andrew (2010): Does Size Matter in Australia?, The Economic Record, 86 (272), 71-83.
6. Being married and staying married increases your net worth by 77 percent.
Divorced people "experience an average wealth drop of 77 percent," according to the study that yielded this stat, and married people's "wealth increases on average 16 percent per each year of marriage." "My best advice for those who want to be wealthy is this: Get married. Stay married," Zagorsky says. Marital status affects children's fates as well: 50 percent of children who start life poor with married parents who then stay married rise to the middle or top third of the economic spectrum as adults. Yet only 26 percent of children born poor with parents who divorce rise to the middle or top, as do 42 percent of children born poor to unmarried mothers.
Jay L. Zagorsky (2005): "Marriage and Divorce's Impact on Wealth." Journal of Sociology, 41 (4), 406-424.
Thomas DeLeire and Lopoo, Leonard M. (2010): Family Structure and the Economic Mobility of Children, a report for the Pew Charitable Trusts' Economic Mobility Project.
7. Drinkers earn 10 to 14 percent more money than abstainers.
"Drinking leads to higher earnings by increasing social capital," write the researchers whose work yielded this stat. Male self-reported drinkers earn 21 percent more than male abstainers; drinking females earn 8 percent more than nondrinking females. Males who visit bars at least once a month "earn an additional 7 percent on top of the 10 percent drinkers' premium... Rather than attempting to discourage drinking in society, perhaps we should encourage it." Says self-made multimillionaire Jim Britt, author of Do This. Get Rich!: "A person who doesn't drink at all—not that that's a bad thing—is probably very conservative, and that would keep him or her out of a lot of social circles."
Bethany L. Peters and Stringham, Edward (2006): No Booze? You May Lose: Why Drinkers Earn More Money Than Nondrinkers, Journal of Labor Research, 27 (3).
8. Those who earned undergraduate degrees in petroleum engineering earn salaries over four times as high as those who earned undergraduate degrees in child and family studies.
Mid-career median salaries for former petroleum-engineering majors are around $157,000; for former child and family studies majors, they're $38,400. Degrees in engineering—chemical, electrical, aerospace, nuclear, and petroleum—draw higher pay than any other type of degree, according to the job-market report containing these figures. Those with undergrad degrees in applied mathematics earn nearly twice as much as those with degrees in theology, art history, and French.
2010-11 College Salary Report: Best Undergrad College Degrees by Salary, a PayScale Report.
9. Each one-unit increase in a typical young person's body mass index is associated with an 8 percent reduction in wealth.
White females suffer the greatest wealth drop, at 12 percent. For white men, it's only 2 percent, and for African-American women, 7 percent. Weight gain has no impact on net worth for African-American males, according to the study that produced this stat. Obese people "tend to have higher medical costs than others, which cuts into their savings," Zagorsky says. "And some employers are willing to pay more for employees who fit stereotypical beauty models." In any case, "Losing a large amount of weight dramatically improves your wealth over time. But it has to be an extreme weight change. Losing five pounds doesn't do anything."
Jay L. Zagorsky (2005): "Health and Wealth: The Late-20th-century Obesity Epidemic in the U.S." Economics & Human Biology, 3 (2), 296-313.
10. 22 percent of American households headed by persons of Russian ancestry have a net worth of $1 million or more.
People of Russian ancestry demonstrate a higher concentration of millionaires in the United States than those of all other ancestries, according to the authors of the book in which this statistic appears. Although only about 1.1 million of American households are headed by persons of Russian ancestry, they account for "6.4 percent of all millionaire households." By contrast, 19.5 percent of American households are headed by persons of German ancestry, yet "only 17.3 percent of all millionaire households are headed by persons of German ancestry and only about 3.3 percent of German households are in the millionaire league."
Thomas J. Stanley and Danko, William D. The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy. New York, NY: Pocket Books, 1996 (page 19).
11. 21 percent of white Americans and only 2 percent of African Americans and 8 percent of Hispanics buy real estate or make other investments at young ages, which economists consider a key predictor of future wealth.
Jim Britt never finished high school, "but I bought my first home when I was 19 and working on a factory assembly line," he says. His wife was an assembly-line worker, too. "I had no background, no money—so I had to get creative. That was the first step. Seeing an opportunity, having a desire, making a decision to accomplish something before you know how you're going to accomplish it: This is the mind-set that many wealthy people share."
Lisa A. Keister (2004): Race, Family Structure, and Wealth: The Effect of Childhood Family on Adult Asset Ownership, Sociological Perspectives, 47 (2), 161-187.
12. Blond women earn 7 percent more money than non-blonds.
And blond women marry men who earn about 6 percent more than the husbands of non-blonds, according to the study that yielded this stat. Blond hair is stereotypically considered more attractive than other hair colors, and "people like to be associated with pretty people... I guess subconsciously a boss would pay extra for that potential privilege," Corey says. "I tolerate a sales pitch from an attractive girl much longer than I do from an unattractive one. "
David W. Johnston (2010): Physical Appearance and Wages: Do Blondes Have More Fun? Economic Letters, 108 (1), 10-12.
13. Nonsmokers' net worth is about 50 percent higher than that of light smokers, and more than twice as much as that of heavy smokers.
Each year of adulthood during which an individual remains a smoker represents a 4 percent decrease in his or her net worth. "Smokers spend an incredible amount of money on smoking," says Zagorsky, whose research produced these figures. "Those packs really do add up."
J.L. Zagorsky (2004): The Wealth Effects of Smoking Tobacco Control, 13 (4), 370-374.
14. 36 percent of American children born to parents in the uppermost economic bracket remain there as adults.
And exactly the same percentage of children born into the bottom wealth bracket remain in the bottom bracket as adults. Born rich? Born poor? You've got a 36 percent chance of staying that way.
Julia B. Isaacs, et al. (2008): Getting Ahead or Losing Ground: Economic Mobility in America, a report for the Pew Charitable Trusts' Economic Mobility Project.
15. 54 percent of American children who are born to parents in the uppermost economic bracket and who then earn college degrees remain at the top.
How to increase your chances of staying rich if you were born rich? Earn a college degree. How to get rich if you were born poor? Earn a college degree. 84 percent of American children born at the bottom of the economic ladder and who later earn degrees rise at least one rung; 19 percent reach the top. But only 5 percent of Americans born poor rise to the top without college degrees, according to the authors of the study that produced these stats. (To increase your chances even more, attend Harvey Mudd.)
Julia B. Isaacs, et al. (2008): Getting Ahead or Losing Ground: Economic Mobility in America a report for the Pew Charitable Trusts' Economic Mobility Project.
Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and the Nautilus Award-winning Stuck: Why We Don't (or Won't) Move On, and the coauthor of still more, including Weird Europe and The Scavengers' Manifesto . In 2006, she won a Society of Professional Journalists award for criticism.