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The Bald and The Beautiful: A Look at Career Urban Legends

Jada A. Graves

When it comes to job searching and career success, there are certain truths we've been conditioned to believe. Include an objective on a resume and you can kiss an interview goodbye. Arrive late to your interview and you can kiss that job goodbye. Steal from the job and you can kiss your career goodbye. In each of those cases, it's easy to see the connection between your choices and future success.

Sometimes the correlation is a little less clear, and occasionally, it's nonexistent. Here are three popular urban legends about how your lifestyle affects your career. Can you determine which are true and which aren't?

[See: The 25 Best Jobs.]

1. Married workers deserve higher pay. There's been much news coverage on the pay disparity between men and women in this country. But what's less-often reported is the pay difference between married people and singles. Although single professionals arguably have more flexibility than coupled-up folks when it comes to accessibility to complete assignments, they're also historically paid less. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the full-time median income for a married man between ages 18 and 64 was $55,958 in 2011. Married women in the same age group earned approximately $40,489, whereas single men earned around $34,634 per year. And single women? A piddly $32,593. Some experts say the unbalance harkens back to a period when men were the sole or key breadwinners of their households.

"Some are quick to suggest that married men earn their extra pay--that somehow they are better workers--but I think there is a different explanation," says Bella DePaulo, a social scientist and author of several books, including Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. "This is an example of singlism, or discrimination against single people. In studies in which married and single men are similar in their accomplishments ... the married men are still paid more than the single men."

The verdict: False. Many married people now are part of a dual-income household. And while couples often have children to support, so do many solo workers; there are approximately 13.6 million single parents in this country, the Census Bureau reports.

[Read: 10 Ways to Balance Your Career With Your Love Life.]

2. Bald men wield more power in the office. Political commentator James Carville, basketball great Michael Jordan, and marketing guru Seth Godin come from a deep bench of prominent men with shorn locks who command respect. But do we actually respect them more than men with hair, and if so, why?

Albert Mannes of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania published a study in the peer-reviewed journal Social Psychological & Personality Science on perceptions of the men with a full head of hair, shaved heads, and naturally thinning hair. He found that men with shaved heads were rated more dominant, masculine, stronger, and taller. "A likely explanation is that a shaved head in U.S. culture ... is associated with traditionally masculine professions ... and even Hollywood action heroes," Mannes says.

The verdict: True. Though Mannes is careful to point out that balding men aren't offered the same respect. "Men described with naturally thinning hair were viewed less favorably on a host of traits, whereas men described with a shaved head were viewed favorably," he says. "Shaving is a proactive, agentic act. That is what I believe leads to the differences."

[Read: The Pink-Collar Job Boom.]

3. Handsome employees earn handsome paychecks. Do you have an inkling that your good-looking colleague receives preferential treatment compared to your less-than-good-looking (read:ugly) co-worker? Guess what--when it comes to pay, you might be right. Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas in Austin, points out that although it's discriminatory to provide better compensation based on looks, it still happens.

Hamermesh, author of the book Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, found that comely employees might earn an average of 3 to 4 percent more than a person with below-average looks. According to his estimation, that could result in approximately $230,000 more in earnings over the span of a career. "The reason is very simple. We're all customers and we like to deal with good-looking people," he says. "Beauty is more scarce, so employers are willing to pay more for good-looking people." According to Hamermesh's work, better-looking people also often have better self-esteem, and therefore, are more comfortable requesting more pay and negotiating higher salaries.

The verdict: All-of-the-time unfair, but some-of-the-time true.

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