You Are Wearing Your Money On Your Face: Rich Versus Poor Face


Have you ever been in a situation where you get into an expensive shop only to be treated like you are unwelcome? Well, according to research, your face is a giveaway to the clue of your income. In simple terms, rich people look rich and vice versa. How does this even possible?


This article is written based on this intriguing post below.

I couldn’t help but look for the research paper and found that the post above was written based on a study in 2017. According to the article, up until today, there isn’t much research conducted in the area of social class versus nonverbal cues. In the past there were only two: one’s social class according to accent and the other one is related to social engagement (low-class people tend to nod while higher-class people tend to be disengaged).

Research Method

The researcher, Nicholas O. Rule, conducted the study in two layers. In the first study, photos of people were collected from dating sites. These people self-report their income (either 150,000 or less than 35,000).

The second research involved photos of 156 students taken in a lab. Their faces are neutral and expressionless. Their household income data was taken (either 60,000 or above 100,000). In order to avoid racial bias and stereotypes, only Caucasian and East Asian students’ photos were used in this research.

Then the researcher asked participants to look at the photos and asked them to assign these photos to either the wealthy or less affluent category.


The finding is the most shocking part of the study. In the first study, in a split second, people were able to recognize different social statuses accurately up to 68 per cent. Meanwhile, in the second study, the accuracy was 52 per cent. Although the statistic showed that this might be the case of pure coincidence, the result surprised the researcher since in the second study, the photos were neutral and without expressions.

Rule said, “Those [differences] are just so extremely subtle in someone’s appearance and the fact that people were picking up on this and extracting that information from the face so readily really did surprise me”.

The findings are surprising, intriguing, and somewhat troubling because these affect our daily life: from getting a job to just mingling with others. He added, “You look a certain way, people treat you a certain way—people treat you like you’re poor; it’s a cycle you can’t get out of”.

On the same note, this phenomenon is quite similar to beauty privilege. Lilly Delmage in her 2022 article in Glamour Magazine wrote, “Pretty people are perceived as smarter, funnier, more sociable, healthier, and successful. This places them at an advantage in employment, making friends, and – quite simply –  being treated with basic human decency. Pretty people hold the key to a door of opportunities, connections and choices which are shut, locked and barricaded from others”.

The keywords for these two phenomena here are employment, opportunities and better social treatment.

Going back to this research, the key factor to the clue of whether one is wealthy or otherwise is the mouth.

According to Henderson, “When you grow up poor you generally experience less positivity in your day-to-day life. And you’re also around more social predators and criminals so you learn to harden yourself to not look naïve and exploitable”.


I find this research to be fascinating simply because it somehow confirms our human bias and stereotypes. We cannot simply set aside the fact that we, as humans, have that in us. We have to acknowledge them and act better.

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