23 April 2010
Sex appeal as important as education?
by Kate Melville
"Erotic capital" is the implicit but powerful commodity that can count just as much as educational qualifications in the labor market, politics, media or the arts, argues a new study by a sociologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
"Beauty and sex appeal have become more important personal assets in the sexualized cultures of our liberal, modern societies, often just as important as educational qualifications," says Dr Catherine Hakim, author of the study. Her work appears in the journal European Sociological Review.
She coins the term "erotic capital" to refer to this difficult-to-define but crucial combination of physical and social attractiveness which makes some men and women agreeable company and colleagues, attractive to all members of their society and especially to the opposite sex.
"People who possess an above-average amount of erotic capital are more persuasive, are more often perceived as honest and competent. They find it easier to make friends, get jobs, get married, and tend to earn 15 percent more on average as well," Hakim notes.
Hakim argues that erotic capital should be recognized as a new fourth category of personal asset which each of us possess to some degree (along with economic, cultural and social capital).
Hakim breaks erotic capital into six elements: or seven for women in countries where fertility is valued. The other six are:
- Beauty: The modern emphasis on photogenic features means that men and women with large eyes and mouths and sculpted faces are valued. Conventionality, symmetry and an even skin-tone also contribute to attractiveness.
- Sexual attractiveness: Beauty is mainly about facial attractiveness while sexual attraction is largely about a sexy body. However sex appeal can also be about personality and style, femininity or masculinity, a way of being in the world. Beauty tends to be static and easily captured in a photo while sexual attractiveness is about the way someone moves, talks and behaves.
- Social attractiveness: Includes grace, charm and social skills - the ability to make others feel at ease and happy, wanting to know you and, in all likelihood, desire you.
- Liveliness: A mixture of physical fitness, social energy and good humor; those who are the life and soul of the party.
- Presentation: The way you dress, style your hair, wear make-up or perfume and jewelry. People who are skilled at these accomplishments are more attractive.
- Sexuality itself: A category that includes sexual competence, energy, erotic imagination, playfulness and all the things that constitute a sexually satisfying partner. The only one of the six which usually only applies in private, rather than social, situations.
Hakim says that women have the edge over men in these areas, partly because women work harder at being physically and socially attractive, and at dressing well. However, another reason is the large sex deficit that affects more men than women, universally. Surveys show that, around the world, men's sexual interest greatly exceeds women's sexual interest and activity, especially among people aged 35 and over. So women are in greater demand as sexual partners, a dramatic reversal of men's advantage in courtship and marriage markets.
"Of course it has long been known that beautiful women could use that advantage to get on in life. But it has been assumed that was a tactic to make up for their lack of economic or social power, which would become irrelevant when men and women became more equal. Instead, I argue, erotic capital is something all of us trade on and we should see it as a major constituent of our social lives. It has growing importance in the workforce," she concludes.
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Source: London School of Economics and Political Science