When economic misery abounds, beauty products start to look like a good investment.
Women are more likely to buy beauty products during recessions, according to a new paper by researchers at Texas Christian University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Arizona State University. The researchers dub this response the "lipstick effect": The more insecure the economy, the more money women spend on beauty products.
We know it sounds sexist. But the paper, called "Boosting Beauty in an Economic Decline: Mating, Spending, and the Lipstick Effect," includes five studies that proved the researchers' hypothesis. And since women earn 19 percent less than men on average, it's perhaps not surprising they may boost their search for greater financial security by looking better. And some of the implied sexism may be self-reinforcing: Since women on average still are relatively worse off than men in their careers, they may feel they have to compensate by wearing more makeup and nicer clothes.
The paper's first study found that during recessions over the past 20 years, women have reallocated their spending from other items to beauty products. The second, third, and fourth studies found that thinking about the recession made young, unmarried women want to buy beauty products (especially luxury beauty products) and made them more concerned with looking attractive. And the fifth study found that when the recession was on women's minds, advertising for beauty products was more effective when it emphasized attracting men.
The paper's authors theorize that since the supply of financially stable men falls during recessions, the price that women choose to pay for their attention spikes. They say this impulse is rational because moneyed men are more able to afford raising children well.
Raising children is expensive these days. The cost of raising a child in the United Staes is now $235,000 on average, not including paying for college, according to the Department of Agriculture -- though the amount is $295,560 when accounting for projected inflation.
Women's beauty spending may not just be about attracting men, though. Previous research has found that consumers generally spend more on luxury goods during recessions in order to feel better.
And men don't care solely about eye shadow or bronzer when evaluating physical appearance: one of many factors when choosing a mate. Men tend to pay attention to a woman's waist-to-hip ratio, facial symmetry and physical similarity to themselves -- and there's not much that makeup can do to change any of those features.