Extract from : Honey Money

Introduction: Erotic Capital and the Politics of Desire

Anna lost her well-paid job in financial services, so she had to work hard at fi nding a new job. She ate less, exercised, lost weight and looked ten years younger. She went to the hairdresser, had her hair coloured and cut into a new shorter, flattering style, that made her seem younger and more lively. She went shopping, invested in an expensive suit that showed off her new trim figure and made her look attractive as well as professional – and wore the suit to all her job interviews. Anna felt confident wearing it. Three months later she had won a new job in consultancy paying 50 per cent more than the old one.

Anna works in the private sector, where appearances count rather more than in the public sector. But anybody could do the same. Why would anyone not invest in and deploy an asset that supplements intelligence, specialist knowledge and experience? People looking for a new job are often advised to rely on their social network, to exploit their social capital. But updating your appearance and style can be equally effective.

I coined the term ‘erotic capital’ to refer to a nebulous but crucial combination of beauty, sex appeal, skills of self-presentation and social skills – a 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. We are used to valuing human capital – qualifications, training and work experience. More recently, we have begun to recognize the importance of networking and social capital – who you know instead of what you know. This book presents the evidence for, and impact of, a talent so completely ignored until now that there has never been a label for it: erotic capital.

Erotic capital is just as important as human and social capital for understanding social and economic processes, social interaction and upward social mobility. It is essential for making sense of sexuality and sexual relationships. In sexualized, individualized modern societies, erotic capital is becoming more important and more valorized, for men and women. However, women have a longer tradition of developing and exploiting it, and I found that studies regularly find women to have greater erotic appeal than men. Artists have perceived this for centuries.

Counsellors who advise on job-hunting remind us that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. People who are short-listed for interviews are all suitably qualified and have appropriate work experience. Interviews can bring to light any extra talents – such as erotic capital – which help to make a winner. Anna already had the certificates and experience, so she invested in this other asset that is so often overlooked. For people who have few or no qualifications, erotic capital can be their most important personal asset.

Like intelligence, erotic capital has value in all areas of life, from the boardroom to the bedroom. Attractive people draw others to them, as friends, lovers, colleagues, customers, clients, fans, followers, voters, supporters and sponsors. They are more successful in private life (with a greater choice of partners and friends) but also in politics, sport, the arts and business life. In Honey Money I want to explore the social processes that help attractive people to achieve more, faster. At what age does being attractive start to matter? Are the most beautiful and handsome people aware of their advantage? Is there any link between beauty and brains, so that a lucky few have a double advantage? If you are not born beautiful, can you develop attractiveness anyway?

At an early stage, my study threw up a puzzle. Research shows that men benefit financially even more than women from high erotic capital! As I expected, women score higher on levels of social and physical attractiveness – probably because they invest more effort in looking good and being agreeable – but men are rewarded more highly for their lesser efforts. In effect, women’s erotic capital seems to be less well rewarded than men’s – most demonstrably in the workforce.