News flash from the Washington Post:

Women wear makeup.

In an effort to appear polished and professional, many American women — not all, of course, but many — spend a huge amount of time and money on makeup and skincare products.

No! But it's true! WaPo writer Ana Swanson reports:

This is not to mention the time and effort many women spend on their hair, clothing, nails and other beauty routines. In a highly unscientific poll, 27 of my female colleagues at The Washington Post reported putting an average of five products on their face that morning, and keeping two additional pairs of shoes at their desk. The two male colleagues I asked averaged half a product and one extra shoe each.

And since this is the Washington Post, there has to be a sexism problem somewhere in all of this. And there is:

You might dismiss all this female primping and preening as vanity or silliness. Yet a fascinating new paper from two sociologists suggests that women do have good reason to spend so much time and money on their appearance: If they don't, they risk losing a substantial amount of money.


The research, from Jacyln Wong of the University of Chicago and Andrew Penner of the University of California at Irvine, used data from a long-running national study of more than 14,000 people to look at the association between attractiveness and income. In the surveys, the interviewers asked people a variety of questions about their income, job, education, personality and other attributes. Interviewers also rated their interviewees on how attractive and how well-groomed they appeared.

Like past studies, the research showed that attractive people tended to earn higher salaries. But that wasn’t all. Their research suggested that grooming – practices such as applying makeup and styling hair and clothing — was actually what accounted for nearly all of the salary differences for women of varying attractiveness. For men, grooming didn’t make as much of a difference….

They find that, controlling for other differences such as age, race, class and education, individuals who were rated as more attractive by an interviewer earned about 20 percent more than people who were rated as having just average attractiveness….

They found that a substantial amount of attractiveness was the result of grooming, and here's where they found gender differences, Wong says. “For women, most of the attractiveness advantage comes from being well groomed. For men, only about half of the effect of attractiveness is due to grooming."

In other words, the study suggests that grooming is important for both men and women in the workplace, but particularly for women. Changes in grooming have a substantial effect on whether women are perceived as attractive, and their salaries. In fact, as the charts below show, less attractive but more well-groomed women earned significantly more, on average, than attractive or very attractive women who weren’t considered well-groomed.

In other words, a little makeup always helps–just like your mother said. Oh, and comb your hair before that job interview. Did we actually need a sociological study to prove this?

But back to that sexism problem:

But there are more sinister theories as well. One is that these gender differences are the result of a cultural tendency to monitor women’s behavior more than men’s, in ways that keep women distracted from really achieving power. Wong quotes Naomi Wolf, a third-wave feminist who argues that unrealistic standards of beauty that women are encouraged to pursue – an ideal she calls “the beauty myth” – is ultimately a way to control and constrain women’s behavior.

Oh, OK, now that we've got that quote from Naomi Wolf, we know we're talking about serious scholarship.

What I want to know is: How much in the way of tax dollars funded this study?