Study finds a link between income and time spent on makeup and hair

But only for women

Women wear makeup for all sorts of reasons (and men can too). It’s not anyone’s job to judge others for their morning routine. Some people think women are vain or just trying to impress men when they wear makeup and, to be honest, who cares if those are the reasons. You feel good in makeup? Wear it. To hell with people judging you for why you should or shouldn’t use cosmetics. But psychologists and sociologists do care, because it raises interesting questions. Why does the average woman use more cosmetics, spend more time on their hair, and pay more attention to their wardrobe than the average man? A new paper proposes that it could be related to income.

The researchers, Jacyln Wong and Andrew Penner (from the universities of Chicago and California, respectively), used data from 14,000 participants to compare their attractiveness with their income. Interviewees were asked lots of questions about their work and lifestyle but were also rated by attractiveness and how well-groomed they appeared. By grooming they mean applying makeup, styling hair, carefully selecting their clothing etc.

They found that more attractive people tended to have a higher income, which isn’t exactly news. This is something many researchers have looked into and its thought that when people are attractive, others tend to associate other qualities with them too such as intelligence. Although these results weren’t particularly gendered, what’s interesting about the study is that the grooming was.

The morning routine

For men, grooming doesn’t make a big difference to income. More attractive men tended to make more money and the variation is about the same whether you take grooming into account or not. Using some moisturiser and styling their hair didn’t make a big difference for men. In other words, men are being judged for their “natural beauty”, which correlates with their income.

Grooming for women, on the other hand, is what makes the difference. More attractive women got higher salaries, but grooming played a bigger part in explaining that variation. In fact, it explained almost all of it. This is interesting because we already have a lot of studies that have looked at the phenomena without taking grooming into account. For example, being an attractive man helps in any position. But being an attractive woman is only helpful in some roles and is actually seen as a negative for managerial positions. Some have suggested it’s caused by men feeling intimidated.

Wong and Penner’s research makes the matter more complex by finding that there are no gender differences when it comes to attraction and income until you consider grooming. Attractiveness is equally useful for men and women at work, but grooming is a lot more useful for women. This is true to the point that less attractive but well-groomed women had higher salaries than more attractive women who weren’t well-groomed.

Fragile masculinity

So why is makeup more important for women? The new study can’t really explain that. Some of us are simply being creative and expressing ourselves. Men do that too but they have less products to work with due what’s supposedly “socially acceptable”. If you ask women, we wear makeup for fun, to look good, to be creative, to emphasise our gender and all sorts of other reasons. There’s not an ulterior motive, yet some research suggests it has a psychological effect on others for better or worse. Perhaps employers, even subconsciously, reward behaviours that are seen as fitting into the societal, gendered norm. Dress like a lady and you’ll go further since you’re not rocking the gender boat.

I say to hell with the gender boat. Not only are the supposed gender norms outdated and sexist they’re also very Western-centric. Look at South Korea, the world’s top per-capita consumers of men’s skincare products. South Korean women do use more products, but the men use an average of 13 products per month and that’s far more than any European countries or the US.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with being a super masculine man or a super feminine woman either and that’s the point. Be yourself. If only we could be ok with someone wearing makeup because, shock horror, they like it.

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