Beauty in class: not remotely as good-looking digitally

Published: 2022-10-12

New research conducted at LUSEM shows interesting things about grades at Lund University: The income of the students' parents can affect grade outcomes and beauty can be crucial for education in-person, since attractive students receive higher grades in non-quantitative subjects.

New research shows that grades of attractive female students went down, when online during COVID-19. Photos: iStock

New research by Adrian Mehic at LUSEM in two differrent studies show interesting things about grades at Lund University. Adrian is a PhD student at LUSEM, studying on his fifth and last year. His thesis work, leading eventually to a thesis by published works, will contain five articles. Both articles have attracted attention lately.

Grade outcomes dependent both on gender and socioeconomic characteristics

In one of the already written studies Adrian is able to show that campus access in parallel courses improved grades in online courses, but only among female students with affluent parents. The effect is increasing linearly with parental income; grade outcomes under blended learning are thus heavily dependent both on gender and socioeconomic characteristics. 

What does your study about female students and online courses show and what do you think the reasons are ? 

”Our study shows that grade outcomes under blended learning are heavily dependent both on gender and socioeconomic characteristics. One reason to why female students with affluent parents is better off is because they manage to have a broader social network,” Adrian says.

Do you think the pandemic will change academic education and leave us with online teaching only in the future?

”I hope not. Our study also shows that blended learning is still preferred to full online teaching. We show that partial campus access mitigates the pandemic-related adverse effects on mental health for all students, regardless of gender or socioeconomic background.”

You gave a speech at a SNS seminar in Stockholm recently on this theme. What was that about?

”I was invited to present my study about digital teaching and to participate in a panel. The seminar was about digital teaching and how university students have been affected. One question was how the students' study results and well-being have been affected by distance learning and which students have coped best with the transition.”

Beauty can affect grades

The other interesting study by Adrian is the one about how beauty can affect grades. When online during the COVID-19 pandemic, grades of attractive female students went down in non-quantitative subjects. However, the beauty premium persisted for males, suggesting that discrimination is a salient factor in explaining the grade beauty premium for females only.

How did you measure beauty in your study? 

”We had a jury consisting of 74 people of the same age as the students who looked at photos and rated the looks. We had more than 300 students and because of this large amount we had to divide the students into two groups resulting in that every student got 37 ratings each. These results were then compared with the grade ratings of the people in question,” Adrian explains.

Can you develop your theories about why the grades of attractrive female students went down when not on campus and why that was not the case when it comes to the male attractive students?

”Most of the teachers were men, so it seems reasonable that they would primarily discriminate towards female students. However, even female teachers gave the attractive women higher grades. I was a bit surprised by the fact that attractive guys recieved higher grades even when teachers could not see their faces. There is some research in psychology showing that attractive men are more self-confident, and more hard-working, which should benefit them regardless of mode of instruction.”

Adrian explains further about the results; they are only significant for courses where there is usually a lot of interaction between teachers and students. Courses like non-quantitative courses are for example characterized by such forms of teaching. In math and physics courses where there are classroom exams and the teaching only consists of lectures, there was no significant effect.

About Adrian

Adrian Mehic is a doctoral student at Department of Economics and Centre for Economic Demography.

Adrian's research areas are political economy, economic sociology and applied microeconomics but he has recently also become interested in educational issues and have found a way to combine these areas.

Adrian's profile in the Research Portal

Learn more about the study

The image material in the study has been obtained from public sources, such as public Facebook pages and not from personal pages. The use of the images does not require consent, in line with how consent is regulated in GDPR, art.14, point 5. The material is included in Adrian Mehic's doctoral thesis, the study is peer reviewed and published in Economics Letters in October 2022.

Read more:

Student beauty and grades under in-person and remote teaching

Get Rich or Fail Your Exam Tryin': Gender, Socioeconomic Status and Spillover Effects of Blended Learning