Saturday, August 13, 2011

Retirement Transitions - Lose Your Looks, Lose Your Money

As if retirees don’t have enough problems planning and managing their finances, especially with what’s been going on in Washington, this week’s Time magazine reports more bad news.

An economist from the University of Texas has written a book titled Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful. I’m a tad suspicious of the sources, since the article says simply that “studies indicate” that good looks can earn you a lifetime premium of $230,000 vs. an ugly otherwise equal peer. Supposedly, the discrepancy is even more pronounced for men, if you can believe that.

I did some quick Googling to see if I could turn up more about the study or studies that informed this book. Mostly I found reviews of the book, and I didn’t have the patience to dig very deeply. So, you can take this at face value or say phooey.

You might think that as a retiree, the earnings spread would be of little concern to me. However, one has to assume that if there is any substance to the good professor’s findings, you don’t just earn more if you’re good looking. You probably also pay less—get better deals on, say, a new car.

The reason this bothers me is that as I age, I see my looks fading away. As I peer into the mirror each day while I’m brushing my teeth, which mercifully are still all there, I can’t help but acknowledge that I’m not as attractive as when I was younger.

I don’t simply mean comparing the current me to the earlier me. I mean comparing the earlier me to my peers back then and comparing the current me to my fellow retirees. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that I’m going to be paying a premium for my purchases and services as I move through retirement.

There are other physical factors to further complicate my prospects for a financially stable retirement. I can recall many reports that tall people are treated as having more clout and are generally more successful than short people.

Like most folks over 60, I’m starting to shrink. I was flirting with 5’ 2” at one point in my life. Now I’m sneaking up on 5’ 1”. Does this mean my already disadvantaged height is going to become more of a bogey in my later retirement? Sadly, that’s likely to be the case.

I suppose I could budget more money for makeup and spend more time applying it. My physical therapist has me doing exercises to stretch my spine. I could plan to continue PT even after I’ve reached Medicare’s annual cap. But none of that would really be me.

No, I think I’ll just be happy with my shrinking body and the face in the mirror. I may not have as much money as my taller, more attractive friends, but I’ll always have my family. And a nice, but affordable, bottle of wine. I can live with that.


Leslie Kramer said...

Has anyone done a study of whether hair coloring makes much of a difference in people's perception of attractiveness? I do color my hair, and I wonder if it's worth the cost and bother.
I feel like I would look much older if I didn't do it, so my vanity keeps me from stopping. At what age doesn't it matter?

Elaine M. Decker said...

I resisted coloring mine for years. I was in job search mode and some trusted friends told me to dye it, so I did. At the same time, I removed my first job/career from my resume (10 years.) I never included my college graduation year, but it wasn't hard to figure out when you looked at my first year of employment. Instant change in my call back rate. And fairly soon I was employed. So I would say absolutely, hair color is an issue. Especially for women.