Why women do their hair and makeup: Attractiveness and income

By Jaclyn Wong

Cross-posted with permission from Work in Progress here.

Is it possible to capitalize on your good looks?  The answer might depend on your gender, and whether you are “naturally” beautiful, or invest resources on your self-presentation.

Beauty is a valued trait in American society, and previous research suggests that physically attractive individuals are advantaged across many areas of social life.  For example, attractive students are considered more intelligent by their teachers, and are more popular among their classmates. Attractive women are more likely to marry husbands with higher socioeconomic status.  Even justice is not blind, as attractive criminal defendants receive less severe punishments than their unattractive counterparts.

Given these patterns, it is no surprise that attractive people also do better in the workplace.  Attractive job candidates are favored over unattractive applicants.  They are also more likely to receive better performance evaluations. As a result, attractive workers have higher earnings than average and unattractive workers.

But, is beauty an asset in the workplace for both men and women?  Beauty is a uniquely important part of the feminine gender role, but attractiveness may be less important for the traditional male role.  Thus, we might expect that attractive women are especially advantaged at work.

However, some researchers have found that beauty is beastly: being very attractive could hurt women, especially if they work in positions of power.  If attractive women are seen as more feminine, and femininity conflicts with the masculinized ideal worker norm, attractive women may be disadvantaged in the workplace.

Finally, if beauty matters for workplace outcomes, how important is it to be born with good looks?  Can people do “beauty work” to improve their appearance?  One could get a haircut, wear makeup, and choose flattering outfits to look good.  One could also go on a diet or even undergo cosmetic surgery to achieve an attractive appearance.  Men and women can both groom themselves to maintain their appearance, but cultural double standards with very strict prescriptions for women may make beauty work more crucial for women.make-up

Our study uses nationally representative data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to 1) confirm the relationship between attractiveness and income; 2) examine whether the attractiveness-earnings relationship is the same for women and men; and 3) explore the role of grooming in attractiveness-earnings relationship.  The Add Health study collected data on respondents’ annual income, as well as information on their background characteristics and physical appearance.  Add Health interviewers rated respondents’ physical attractiveness on a five-point scale ranging from “very unattractive,” to “about average,” to “very attractive.”  Grooming is similarly rated from “very poorly groomed” to “about average” to “very well-groomed,”

We find that attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness.  However, most of this boost in income is due to grooming.  When we account for grooming, being seen as very attractive is associated with a 13 percent increase in earnings.  That is, taking out the effect of wearing nice clothes, having a good haircut, or engaging in other beauty practices, being “naturally” physically attractive predicts 13 percent higher earnings compared to being average.

Being seen as very well-groomed rather than average is associated with a 20 percent increase in income after accounting for physical attractiveness.  In other words, taking away the effect of biologically-based traits for attractiveness like facial symmetry, people who are very well-groomed earn 120% of what people with average grooming earn.

When we examine gender differences in the attractiveness-earnings relationship, we surprisingly find none.  “Naturally” attractive men and women both earn higher incomes than their plainer counterparts.

Where we do find gender differences is in the role of grooming in the attractiveness-earnings relationship.  For men, being well-groomed helps, but being born physically attractive matters a lot for earnings.  For women on the other hand, attractiveness is all about beauty work.  For example, less attractive but well-groomed women actually earn more than attractive or very attractive women.

In summary, being born with good looks helps at the workplace, but it is more important to be well-groomed to enjoy a boost in income.  Being attractive is not enough; it is doing attractiveness appropriately that gets rewarded in the workplace. Perhaps this is because the amount of effort someone puts into maintaining his or her appearance corresponds with how much effort he or she will put into his or her job.  At any rate, we show that physical attractiveness is an important source of inequality in the labor market.

We also show that beauty work is especially important for women, and for less attractive women in particular.  This finding supports other feminist researchers’ claims that beauty practices are ultimately methods for controlling women’s behavior.  Grooming – a social activity that requires effort, time, resources, and conforming to desired social identities – is imperative for women in a way that it is not for men.

Jaclyn Wong is a Sociology PhD candidate at the University of Chicago. This post is based on her and Andrew Penner’s (UC Irvine) article “Gender and the Returns to Attractiveness” in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility .

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“Stalker”, Insider and Outsider

By CHEN lin

I have conducted fieldwork in Beijing three different times; most recently this year from February to May. I acted as a volunteer on a construction site, playing movies and singing songs for workers. My research focuses on intimacy and family relationships of migrant women workers. I share three stories resulting from my experience as a woman student researcher on the construction site.beijing

“Are you a journalist?”

When I visited the kitchen of the construction site for a third time, a woman chef took a look at me and returned to her cooking, seemingly indifferent. Then a group of workers came into the kitchen, with bowls in their hands, and asked who I was. After all, the way I dressed was completely different from them, not like a worker on a construction site. The migrant woman worker said “Look at the girl, carrying a red bag the whole day, coming around here so often! She is going to play a movie here later!” And suddenly, she turned to me again. With a dubious smile, she asked “Are you a journalist? What on earth do you want to know from us?”

That was the most recurring setback I encountered in the fieldwork —— lack of trust from the subjects. My research focuses on workers’ personal narratives of intimacy and family. It is hard for them to tell me about their private life, which I think is not easy for many, and many would be altogether unwilling. I believe that the first step is to build rapport with the workers. I became very thick-skinned as I would visit their dorms so frequently. Consequently, I spent the first two months fostering a relationship and persistently, trying to find out all that happened on the site. I literally became a “stalker” during that period. Continue reading

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Goodbye to the barbershop?

By Kristen Barber

Cross-posted with permission from The Conversation on August 7, 2016 here

With their red, white and blue striped poles, dark Naugahyde chairs and straight razor shaves, barbershops hold a special place in American culture.

But numbers show that barbershops are dwindling. According to census data, from 1992 to 2012 we saw a 23 percent decrease in barbershops in the United States (with a slight uptick in 2013).

As a sociologist, I find barbershops fascinating because they’ve also traditionally been places where men spend time with other men, forming close relationships with one another in the absence of women. Many patrons will even stop by daily to simply chat with their barbers, discuss the news or play chess. A real community is created in these places, and community is important to health and well-being.

So how should we interpret the decline of the barbershop? Is it yet another sign that, according to Robert Putnam in “Bowling Alone,” our community ties are crumbling? Or should we really be looking at just what sort of men are no longer getting haircuts at a barbershop – and what sort of men still go there? Continue reading

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The Violence Against Women Act, Framing, and Feminist Compromise

By Nancy Whittier

During the 2012 elections, unprecedented public argument emerged over what Democrats dubbed Republicans’ “war on women,” as Republican politicians made countless belittling remarks about rape. Republican Representative Ted Akin commented that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that thing down” and prevent pregnancy, while Representative Ricviolence_9-22-16k Santorum said that rape victims who became pregnant should “make the best out of a bad situation” by having the baby. In addition, Republicans blocked the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This may not seem surprising, but in fact VAWA – first passed in 1994 –  had never been controversial before. It was originally cosponsored by both conservatives and liberals in Congress and some of its strongest opponents in 2012 previously had been cosponsors.

Both the dispute in 2012 and earlier bipartisan support depended on how violence against women is understood. Is it a matter of women’s oppression and thus a feminist issue? Is it a matter of crime and law enforcement and thus a traditionally conservative concern? Is it only a matter of gender, or are there distinct experiences and needs for immigrant women, women of color, Native American women, or LGBT people? Continue reading

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Why does the beginning of the marriage matter? Women’s marital transitions, empowerment and abuse in Myanmar

By Stephanie Spaid MiedemaSan Shwe, and Aye Thiri Kyaw

Relationships are all about power.

Family sociologists find that broader social systems of gender inequality affect women’s power within marriage. That is, when women are not valued in society as equal to men, they are similarly not valued in marriage as equal to their husbands.* There are consequences to this inequality. When women hold relatively less power within their relationships, they are at higher risk of experiencing adversity, such as intimate partner violence. This effect is particularly pronounced in countries with high gender inequality. When we think about gender, power and violence, we tend to focus, not surprisingly, on relationships that already exist.  We measure indicators of women’s empowerment, such as decision-making or gendered attitudes, within existing marriages.

But relationships do not form out of thin air. Rather, we transaugust_miedema_myanmar-map_flatition into relationships.

When we marry, we shift from single individuals to a two-person unit within the social institution of marriage. So, what happens to power during that transition? What if the beginning of the relationship is a pivotal moment in which the distribution of power is coded onto the future marital relationship? How does this change our thinking around women’s empowerment in marriage and risk of experiencing partner violence?  The long-isolated country of Myanmar (formerly Burma), nestled between China, India and Thailand, served as a unique site to test these questions.

Gender equality in Myanmar? Gender relations between women and men in Myanmar have long been touted as equitable and advantageous to women. Until recently, this perception went largely unquestioned A nascent women’s rights movement is emerging in the wake of democratic reform, shedding light on the oppression of women throughout Myanmar history. A major piece of the gender scaffolding in Myanmar society is the ideology of hpon, an abstract concept that refers to men’s inborn and innate superiority over women derived from Myanmar Buddhist culture. Hpon and all things masculine are associated with good luck and positive spiritual forces. Thus, men are leaders, breadwinners and heads of households. Women and femininity are associated with ill omens. Myanmar society thus becomes physically, psychologically and spiritually stratified by the concept of hpon, signaling a comprehensive permeation of a patriarchal ideology.

Inequalities mold the marriage transition  To answer our questions of the importance of marital transitions and pre-conditioning of relationship power, we drew on qualitative data from two sites in Myanmar We found that many women entered into marriage because they faced insecurity or uncertainty in their life. Marriage is often viewed as the only option for a woman in Myanmar society. A woman gains status from marriage and is ‘protected’ by her husband. Women who were isolated from family – maybe because their families had migrated for work – faced social vulnerabilities that pushed them into marriage. Women who had little financial security tended to see marriage as a way to gain economic stability.

Other women eloped. In Myanmar, sex and pre-marital sexual relations are socially proscribed, especially for women. If a couple is suspected of having sex, they are considered married. In the context of double sexual standards for women and men and illegitimacy of sex outside of marriage, women’s options for leaving a sexual relationship were limited. If a woman’s sexual reputation was undermined, marriage with the man in question became the sole option.

Marital transitions and abuse When women’s marital transition was characterized by low agency, and less power and status relative to her husband, it pre-coded the power dynamics of the marriage. Women tended to have little control over financial resources, were more isolated from family and friends and were less able to decide when and how they wanted to have sex. In turn, these power dynamics inhibited women’s ability to avoid instances of partner abuse and framed this abuse. Women were belittled for their ‘lower’ status and forced to hand earnings over to their husbands; they were physically abused with impunity due to their social isolation; and many experienced marital rape because of men’s assumed sexual control over their wives.

In sum, women’s lives before marriage – their economic resources, their social networks and their sexual activities – shaped the nature of their shift into marriage. This pre-coded the gendered power distribution within their marriage, and inhibited their ability to avoid instances of partner abuse. While we focus on Myanmar women, we believe the implications hold universal relevance for how we think about gender, power and marriage. We encourage gender sociologists to consider women’s life conditions before marriage as predictors of power within marriage, and think about the implications for women’s health and well-being.

*Note: We focus here on opposite-sex partnerships, because our data captures only heterosexual marriages. More research needs to be conducted on empowerment, gender and sexuality within same-sex relationships, particularly in the Southeast Asian context.   

Stephanie Spaid Miedema is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Emory University. Her research focuses on gender, sexuality and adverse life experiences, including intimate partner violence, among women and men across Asia-Pacific. Miedema serves as a technical research advisor to non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies on gender equality, women’s empowerment and violence prevention in South and South-east Asia.   

San Shwe is the Senior Technical Consultant for Community Partners International, a non-profit health organization that delivers health care and education to remote areas of Myanmar. She is the former Director of Research for the Department of Medical Research, Ministry of Health. Her research focuses on elder care, contraception, abortion and sexual and reproductive health among youth populations. 

Aye Thiri Kyaw is a gender, women’s rights and inclusion researcher and programme analyst in Myanmar. She works with national non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies to coordinate research and program development on maternal and child health, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. Her research interests include gendered socio-cultural norms, reproductive health, gender-based violence and sex trafficking.

Their Gender & Society article “Social Inequalities, Empowerment, and Women’s Transitions into Abusive Marriages: A Case Study from Myanmar” can be found in the August 2016; 30 (4) issue here

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Gender & Society Volume 30, No. 5 2016 30 (5): Table of Contents

Gender & Society 2016
Table of Contents, Volume 30, No. 5

Articles:
How You Bully a Girl:
Sexual Drama and the Negotiation of Gendered Sexuality in High School
SARAH MILLER
Straight Girls Kissing:
Understanding Same Gender Sexuality beyond the Elite College Campus
JAMIE BUDNICK
“Truly a Women of Color Organization”:
Negotiating Sameness and Difference in Pursuit of Intersectionality
ZAKIYA LUNA
Carceral and Intersectional Feminism in Congress:
The Violence against Women Act, Discourse, and Policy
NANCY WHITTIER
“You’re Underestimating Me and You Shouldn’t”:
Women’s Agency in Fantasy Sports
REBECCA JOYCE KISSANE AND SARAH WINSLOW

Book Reviews:
Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Size Modeling
by Amanda M. Czerniawski
KJERSTIN GRUYS

Misconception: Social Class and Infertility in America
by Ann V. Bell
VIRGINIA LITTLE

Unbought and Unbossed: Transgressive Black Women, Sexuality and Representation
by Trimiko Melancon
MARIA S. JOHNSON

Drug Mules: Women in the International Cocaine Trade
by Jennifer Fleetwood
ROSEMARY BARBERET

Postcolonial Masculinities: Emotions, Histories and Ethics
by Amal Treacher Kabesh
NAJATE ZOUGGARI

Becoming Women: The Embodied Self in Image Culture
by Carla Rice
JESSICA MACNAMARA

The Essential Ellen Willis
Edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz
JUDITH TAYLOR

Discipline and Indulgence: College Football, Media, and the American Way of Life during the Cold War
by Jeffrey Montez De Oca
STEPHEN PATNODE

On Becoming a Teen Mom: Life before Pregnancy
by Mary Patrice Erdmans and Timothy Black
System Kids: Adolescent Mothers and the Politics of Regulation
by Lauren J. Silver
CRISTINA A. POP

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Gender & Society: latest podcast

In the Gender&Society Book Review podcast series, author Marianne Cooper discusses her new book Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times. This book was reviewed in Gender&Society by Philip N. Cohen and was published in the June 2016 30 (3) issue. The mp3 can be downloaded here.

All Gender & Society podcasts can be found here.

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Gender & Society 2016 30 (5)

Gender & Society 2016
Table of Contents, Volume 30, No. 5

Articles:
How You Bully a Girl:
Sexual Drama and the Negotiation of Gendered Sexuality in High School
SARAH MILLER
Straight Girls Kissing:
Understanding Same Gender Sexuality beyond the Elite College Campus
JAMIE BUDNICK
“Truly a Women of Color Organization”:
Negotiating Sameness and Difference in Pursuit of Intersectionality
ZAKIYA LUNA
Carceral and Intersectional Feminism in Congress:
The Violence against Women Act, Discourse, and Policy
NANCY WHITTIER
“You’re Underestimating Me and You Shouldn’t”:
Women’s Agency in Fantasy Sports
REBECCA JOYCE KISSANE AND SARAH WINSLOW

Book Reviews:
Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Size Modeling
by Amanda M. Czerniawski
KJERSTIN GRUYS

Misconception: Social Class and Infertility in America
by Ann V. Bell
VIRGINIA LITTLE

Unbought and Unbossed: Transgressive Black Women, Sexuality and Representation
by Trimiko Melancon
MARIA S. JOHNSON

Drug Mules: Women in the International Cocaine Trade
by Jennifer Fleetwood
ROSEMARY BARBERET

Postcolonial Masculinities: Emotions, Histories and Ethics
by Amal Treacher Kabesh
NAJATE ZOUGGARI

Becoming Women: The Embodied Self in Image Culture
by Carla Rice
JESSICA MACNAMARA

The Essential Ellen Willis
Edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz
JUDITH TAYLOR

Discipline and Indulgence: College Football, Media, and the American Way of Life during the Cold War
by Jeffrey Montez De Oca
STEPHEN PATNODE

On Becoming a Teen Mom: Life before Pregnancy
by Mary Patrice Erdmans and Timothy Black
System Kids: Adolescent Mothers and the Politics of Regulation
by Lauren J. Silver
CRISTINA A. POP

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Masculinity and the Stalled Revolution

By Sarah Thébaud and David S. Pedulla

Researchers increasingly find that American men who are millennials—more than men of earlier generations—aspire to create relationships in which they and their spouse equally share earning and domestic responsibilities, including care of young children. Such egalitarian ideals are difficult to attain, however, given the time and energy demanded by today’s employers.

One oft-cited remedy to this problem has been the introduction obalancef progressive work-family policies, such as paid parental and family leave as well as flexible workplace practices. Such policies make gender-egalitarian relationships considerably more feasible because they provide workers with the time and resources needed to more realistically balance the often competing demands of employment and family obligations. In practice however, men are much less likely than women to take advantage of such policies. Continue reading

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Recognition to Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller’s article “How you Bully a Girl: sexual drama and the negotiation of gendered sexuality in high school”, forthcoming Gender & Society October 2016 30 (5), through the American Sociological Association (ASA) Sexualities section, has won the 2016 Best Graduate Student Paper in the Sociology of Sexualities.  Please join us in congratulating her  and recognizing her important contribution to gender scholarship.

Sarah A. Miller is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research focuses on gender, sexualities, education, and social inequality. She is currently writing her dissertation, which ethnographically explores the varying impacts of youth conflict and anti-bullying initiatives on a high school community in the Northeast

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