August 19, 2011 10:08 pm

Honey Money

Do good-looking people fare better in the workplace? An academic advises women to get grooming

If you’ve got it, flaunt it. If you haven’t got it, go to the gym, get a better hairdo, plaster on a smile and then you will be able to flaunt it a bit too.

This is the gist of Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital by Catherine Hakim, a research fellow at the London School of Economics. She argues that good-looking people do better and calls on all women to use their erotic power against men as a way of getting what they want – both at home and at work.

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Lucy Kellaway

Hakim has clothed this bald thesis in the language of economics and sociology, coining the term “erotic capital” to cover a ragbag of attributes including beauty, sex appeal, dress sense, charm and fitness. Building on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, she argues that individuals have four different sorts of asset: “economic capital”, ie money; “human capital”, ie intelligence or education; and “social capital”, ie contacts. The fourth sort of asset – erotic capital – has until now been ignored but, according to Hakim, is just as important as the other three and may be even more so because it affects you from the moment you are born. This last point, like much in the book, is dubious. Money surely makes a big difference from early childhood too, as does intelligence.

Hakim has assembled a good deal of evidence to show what we know already: that life tends to be easier and more rewarding for the beautiful. But far from saying that this is unfair, she argues it is just as it should be: the attractive are nicer to be with, get on with people better and are, therefore, more productive.

Some of the research is surprising. She quotes studies showing that handsome men are paid more, whereas you only need to look inside any large Anglo-Saxon corporation to see boardrooms stuffed with plain men. She also fails to investigate whether the relationship between looks and success runs in a straight line. I suspect that for women, erotic capital is a professional advantage only up to a point. Women who are fairly easy on the eye do well at work but those who are outstandingly beautiful are penalised; distrusted by women and feared by men.

In addition to erotic capital, Hakim also introduces us to the “male sex deficit”. This is a discovery that she made after a lot of rummaging through the stats on libido: it refers to the idea that men want sex more than women. While the phrase may be new, the general idea is something that surely no one, except perhaps a few of the most radical feminists, ever questioned for a minute.

The upshot of this male sex deficit, she says, is that women’s erotic capital is an even greater asset. If men are keen to have sex all the time, women are controlling a scarce resource, which they should be more blatant about deploying to get their way. Women have the power and men don’t want to acknowledge it.

The economics here have gone a bit awry. If there is a male sex deficit, then surely men will be less choosy and prepared to settle for almost any old female, whether or not she has invested in her erotic capital. One would expect it to be men who are desperately grooming themselves as they compete for scarce resources.

The author is at her best when explaining why her thesis is hated by men, who find it threatening, and by feminists (given a savaging throughout), who are too keen on making women victims. There are some fine passages, in which Hakim makes a good case for destigmatising and legalising the sex industry. Most provocative, though, is her bracing view on fat people. Obesity is self-inflicted, she says, has no benefits and destroys erotic capital. Fatties deserve no sympathy or special treatment as their girth is “unnecessary and indefensible”.

Honey Money is an expanded version of a powerful article that Hakim wrote for Prospect magazine in 2010 and has lost as well as gained by being inflated to almost 400 pages. Nearly every point is made at least twice and some half a dozen times; even examples that seemed thin first time – such as the fact that Kate Moss and Katie Price make money from their erotic capital – are given a second airing later.

Reading the book from cover to cover leaves one with the feeling of having been clubbed repeatedly over the head. However, the experience isn’t entirely unenjoyable, nor is it without purpose. Hakim is quite right on one central point: women in the UK and the US are not brought up to make the best of themselves, as French women are. We are taught that beauty is the poor cousin of brains; we are hung up about flaunting it. This book, for all the repetition, annoying jargon and sloppy reasoning, makes one see things differently. Sitting on the Tube having just finished it, I stared at all the frumpy English women and thought what a shame it was that so few of them were making anything of their erotic capital.

Lucy Kellaway is an FT columnist and author of ‘In Office Hours’ (Penguin)

Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital, by Catherine Hakim, Allen Lane, RRP£20, 384 pages

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