Did Attractive Girls Get Worse Grades When Classes Moved Online?

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COVID has taken a lot from us in the past two years, and now sadly we must add another mortality: hot chicks no longer get better grades for being so hot. I know, I know. It’s…it’s NOT fair. I mean, what’s the point of working out, getting a nose job, or wearing loads of makeup if it’s not going to result in at least a “B”? Who are we supposed to be looking hot for, men? No. No, it was always for the grades. Ah well, time to trade in our mini skirts and pushup bras for giant fuzzy onesies.

Okay, so we already know that there are certain advantages to being “attractive,” as considered by the people around you. We tend to consider attractive people to be more trustworthy, more confident, more intelligent, and other positive traits that we push onto them and then many of them, unwittingly or not, benefit from them, with better jobs, higher wages, and more free things slipped to them by cuter Trader Joe’s cashiers. Come on, we all know it’s happening. Give me a glow up and send me through the basket-only line and I guarantee I’m paying half of what I would if I were dressed like this, and plus they’d probably finally let me buy wasabi peas. Seriously, why doesn’t TJ’s have wasabi peas any more? IT MAKES NO SENSE

Anyway, this study was done by Adrian Mehic, an economist at Lund University in Sweden, who examined 307 students’ grade data across time in classes that switched from in-person to online-only during COVID precautions, and then he had an independent panel of peers rate their attractiveness. And he concluded:

“As education moved online following the onset of the pandemic, the

grades of attractive female students deteriorated. This finding im-

plies that the female beauty premium observed when education

is in-person is likely to be chiefly a consequence of discrimination.

On the contrary, for male students, there was still a significant

beauty premium even after the introduction of online teaching.

The latter finding suggests that for males in particular, beauty can

be a productivity-enhancing attribute.”

Well then! Call up Matt Walsh, we’ve got a CLEAR example of anti-male discrimination, here. Oh but hold on, before you do that, a few points to note:

This paper already made a splash in and around Lund University when it dropped about two weeks ago, and the main issue that came to light was that none of the subjects knew that they were subjects in this study. Mehic just collected their grades and then hit up Facebook and Instagram to grab their profile pics and have a bunch of other students rate how hot they are. If there was more than one picture to choose from, Mehic explained that he picked the one he thought was pretties.

And the “subjects” in this study found out when their own university – because yes, they were students at Lund, including students who Mehic had taught – published this paper that “anonymized” them by including in the raw data their gender, age, parents’ income, grades, and the average income of their hometown. According to the school newspaper, an earlier edition of the raw data also contained “the parents’ county and municipality,” and that “A student that Lundagård spoke to, who does not want to be named, states that it took her three minutes to find herself.”

When many, many scientists pointed out to Mehic that this is wildly unethical, he insisted “If you post pictures of yourself on social media so that everyone in the whole world can take part in them, they will be used, not only for research purposes but also for commercial purposes. If you don’t want your data to be used, you shouldn’t have any accounts on social media, he says.”

Woooooooow, he seems great, what an awesome personality to go with that 7 out of 7 face. 

Okay, so it’s just a little ethical problem, but the data is still sound, right? Well! You know how I’m always blah-blah-blahing about how great pre-registered studies are? That’s when researchers publicly acknowledge what their hypothesis is before they start a study, and they also detail what statistical analyses they plan to use. That would have been GREAT here. And the fact that it’s NOT pre-registered brings up some very interesting questions.

For instance, let me quote from the study (emphasis mine): “The results suggest that the switch to online learning did not result in an overall deterioration of the grades of high-attractive students.” Huh, well that’s weird! In fact, the only way they could find a statistically significant result was to look specifically at high-attractive WOMEN, and even then they didn’t get it. To get a result, they had to look at women who were taking non-quantitative courses. Mehic says he decided to break up classes into two groups:

“All mathematics and

physics courses are classified as quantitative, and the rem(a)inder

are considered non-quantitative. Non-quantitative courses have

a higher share of group assignments, seminars, and oral presen-

tations, whereas mathematics and physics courses rely almost

exclusively on final written exams. Thus, in non-quantitative

subjects, teachers are more likely to interact with and ’’get to

know’’ students, making it reasonable to expect that the beauty

premium is higher in non-quantitative courses.”

Except, that latter group also included things like programming, which programming students argue is about as quantitative as it comes seeing as the “grade is entirely based on an anonymous programming exam.”

Look, if this study had been pre-registered with the hypothesis “attractive women, but not men, will see worse grades when these specific non-quantitative classes switch from in-person to online” then I would be much more willing to believe that this was anything other than p-hacking. Sadly, it wasn’t, so I’m not.

By the way, Mehic’s hypothesis for why attractive men but not women continued to do well offline in non-quantitative classes is this: 

“taken together, these results suggest that

the beauty premium in education is due to discrimination for

females, whereas for male students, it is primarily the result of

a productivity-enhancing attribute.”

Incredible. So…the final conclusion here is that attractive women get better grades because they’re being unfairly advantaged, but attractive men get better grades because they’re harder workers. Yep, sounds great, no notes here, perfect study.

For real though, yeah, this is a garbage study. It’s certainly possible that hot people did worse when classes move online, but this doesn’t show it. And it’s also possible to unethically gather data and still produce solid research from it, but this isn’t it. So, I guess it’s time to change back into the pushup bra, just in case. Grades are important, y’all.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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