The visibility of social class from facial cues

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2017 Oct;113(4):530-546. doi: 10.1037/pspa0000091. Epub 2017 May 29.


Social class meaningfully impacts individuals' life outcomes and daily interactions, and the mere perception of one's socioeconomic standing can have significant ramifications. To better understand how people infer others' social class, we therefore tested the legibility of class (operationalized as monetary income) from facial images, finding across 4 participant samples and 2 stimulus sets that perceivers categorized the faces of rich and poor targets significantly better than chance. Further investigation showed that perceivers categorize social class using minimal facial cues and employ a variety of stereotype-related impressions to make their judgments. Of these, attractiveness accurately cued higher social class in self-selected dating profile photos. However, only the stereotype that well-being positively relates to wealth served as a valid cue in neutral faces. Indeed, neutrally posed rich targets displayed more positive affect relative to poor targets and perceivers used this affective information to categorize their social class. Impressions of social class from these facial cues also influenced participants' evaluations of the targets' employability, demonstrating that face-based perceptions of social class may have important downstream consequences. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cues*
  • Facial Recognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Social Class*
  • Social Perception*
  • Young Adult