[Naci Mocan of the University of Colorado and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University] analyzed data from a federally sponsored survey of 15,000 high-schoolers who were interviewed in 1994 and again in 1996 and 2002. One question asked interviewers to rate the physical appearance of the student on a five-point scale ranging from "very attractive" to "very unattractive."Physical attractiveness is subjective, however. A person's inner life projects through his face and posture, so we may rate a depressed or angry or confused person as unattractive. It may be only that a person's mental condition leads to both criminal behavior and physical unattractiveness. A person with the sort of disordered mind that leads him down a criminal path might also do a poor job of grooming and weight control, another reason why it would not be the ugliness that causes the crime, but an antecedent factor that causes both the ugliness and the crime. In particular, drug and alcohol abuse affect a person's looks and connect to criminal behavior.
These economists found that the long-term consequences of being young and ugly were small but consistent. Cute guys were uniformly less likely than averages would indicate to have committed seven crimes including burglary and selling drugs, while the unhandsome were consistently more likely to have broken the law.
Very attractive high school girls were less likely to commit six of the seven crimes, while those rated unattractive were more likely to have done six of seven, controlling for personal and family characteristics known to be associated with criminal behavior.
Mocan and Tekin aren't sure why criminals tend to be ugly. Other studies have shown that unattractive men and women are less likely to be hired, and that they earn less money, than the better-looking. Such inferior circumstances may steer some to crime, Mocan and Tekin suggest. They also report that more attractive students have better grades and more polished social skills, which means they graduate with a greater chance of staying out of trouble.
On the other side of this coin, those students with good grades and a nice social life might look attractive not because they were born that way, but because they are happy about their success.
There is also an economic factor. It may be that students who are better off find it easier to stay off the criminal path and also easier to improve their physical appearance with good haircuts, nice clothes, acne treatments, and nose jobs.