A paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology this month titled "Boosting Beauty in an Economic Decline: Mating, Spending, and the Lipstick Effect" tried to document and analyze what motivates women to buy beauty products, even when resources are scarce. The researchers referred to the phenomenia of women's increased spending on beauty products during a recession as the "lipstick effect." The paper's hypothesis is:
"[...] conditions of economic resource scarcity should prompt individuals to increase effort directed toward attracting mates, particularly for women. This means that despite dampening consumer interest in most classes of products, economic recession cues may lead women to have heightened interest in products that enhance their desirability to mates, thereby prompting the lipstick effect."Sarah Hill et. al., "Boosting Beauty in an Economic Decline: Mating, Spending, and the Lipstick Effect," 103 J. Personality and Social Psychology 275, 275 (Aug 2012). The paper used US Census Bureau data and five separate experiments to demonstrate that women increase their spending on cosmetics and beauty products during a recession.
The paper's primary conclusion was that women are primarily motivated by a psychological and 'primal' instinct to find a mate, as rich as possible, and to reproduce. During a recession, this instinct is heightened and women cannot resist the urge to spending on cosmetics in hopes of increasing the chance of finding a mate. In fact, the instinct to buy lipstick in bad economic times is so prevalent, the researches conclude that it is an reliable indicator of an economic recession. Lipstick, in particular, seems to be a good indicator because:
Id. citing Schaefer, K. (2008, May 1) "Hard times, but your lips look great." The New York Times.“[Lipstick is] very primal... It's part of the uniform of desirability and attractiveness." Perhaps nowhere is this primal response clearer than for someone like Melissa McQueeney, a 34-year-old unmarried teacher in Connecticut. In the face of increasing bills and economic recession, she adamantly refuses to stop buying lipstick. Continuing to shop at Sephora during the recession, she triumphantly walks to the register with a new lip gloss: “I didn't even try it on. I'm just splurging.”
The paper is persuasive in demonstrating that women buy relatively more cosmetics overall, and particularly in a recession, than men. The premise of these blog posts, that women are devoting more of their resources to beauty products, seems to be valid. The fact it increases during times of economic recession is even more troubling. It indicates that when all people become more vulnerable during a recession, women double their economic risk. Women more rapidly decrease their pool of resources relative to men, risking their health, and further devaluing their self-worth during bad economic times.
Although the statistics documenting women's cosmetic purchases were convincing, the analysis of the motivation behind the purchases was not. What I found woefully lacking in the paper's analysis of the "lipstick effect" was a more complete and diversified approach to what motivates women to spend money on cosmetics. The researchers were too dependent on their assumption that women are always looking to finding a mate. They failed to address what motivates anyone to buy cosmetics: such as constant misleading and pressuring advertising, social constructions of femininity, pressures at work to fit a certain stereotype, and myopic media portrayals of beauty. I would appreciate an article that tackles these motivations.
Let's be clear, I'm not saying don't buy mascara. There is a place for cosmetics in our society. They are fun, creative, and can be an effective means of self-expression. I'm saying that cosmetics shouldn't be dominating such a huge portion of the economy, and that this is especially detrimental towards women. The negative impact on women of such a market are multi-fold and include economic, health, and social implications. Why women spend such an astonishing amount on makeup is complicated, much more so than than the writers of "Boosting Beauty in an Economic Decline" suggest.