Boosting the Beach Body Index

KSummer’s here and the Dutch are heading for the beach. It’s a time when it becomes very obvious indeed that physical health, self-confidence, a positive self-image as well as charisma and attractiveness really do matter, writes the SCP’s Kim Putters.

We tend to underestimate the importance of this sort of ‘personal capital’ for the rest of the year. In the discussions about (in)equality we immediately trot out income policy or education but very often health and a pleasant demeanour that are the crucial life and career determinants. So here’s a thought for a summer’s day.

Health and beauty are not equally divided among the population, as you cannot have failed to notice as you watch the world go by from your deck chair. This has partly to do with age. Older people are or perceive themselves to be less healthy than young people, for instance when it comes to mounting the stairs, or during work.

But when we look at self-confidence and self-image the reverse is usually true. Wisdom comes with age, even if young people beg to differ. Men are thought to become more attractive as they age whereas women don’t believe the same goes for them. Does any of this ring a bell yet?


This brings me from age to gender. On average, men have more self-confidence and a more positive self-image than women who, again on average, are insecure and look for confirmation more often.

That is why women invest more in their physical, mental and aesthetic welfare than men. They go to the gym, watch what they eat, and do mental relaxation exercises. Men suffer somewhat from hubris in the looks department, however: people don’t find them quite as attractive as they think. But men just don’t let it bother them as much.

Education and income also influence health and beauty. People with relatively little education don’t go in for sports and fitness training and clothes shopping as much as their highly educated and better-paid counterparts. With more money also comes an interest in healthy eating, and the possibility to do what is needed when confronted with illness. People on higher incomes also go in for activity holidays, and have several short breaks throughout the year to relieve stress.

Healthy and attractive

In short, healthy and attractive people are more often well-educated and earn more money. Men with a lot of self-confidence are more often men with higher incomes than women, or people with a disability. They have more social contacts and are positive about their quality of life. If they’re tall, chances are they are even more pleased with themselves. Success, then, is not evenly distributed and often unrelated to education or experience.

‘Is this something the government should be concerned with?’ ask those with an allergy to government interference. It is, of course, every individual’s responsibility to look after him or herself, live healthily and try to look presentable. But as your day at the beach will have shown, many people don’t seem as if they are handling their responsibility very well.

Health and beauty are not always manageable. Physical disabilities significantly lessen a person’s chances of a job. Employers can be of help here by not fighting the 5% quota of people with disabilities in their workforce but by upping it to 10%. And if they would stop leaving people by the wayside because of their age it would make Holland an altogether happier place.

Interview training is not a luxury for the long-term unemployed or ethnic minorities. Too often the focus is on additional training, or made to measure employment when it is self-confidence and demeanour that need to be worked on.

It’s something to think about on the beach this summer. The question whether they can look more attractive, fitter and friendlier is not one the Dutch ask themselves often enough. Take a relaxed summer selfie and see how you can improve.

Think about this as you sit under your umbrella: a more attractive, fit and self-confident population is a happier population and the best guarantee for a stable society. I wonder if this August we will come back with a tan that says we have finally breezed past the Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Swiss in the international happiness index.

Kim Putters is the director of the Netherlands Institute of Social Research (SCP)

This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad

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