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The Hidden Costs of Makeup: Taxed If You Wear It and Taxed If You Don’t


The gender wage gap is an enduring problem that has attracted much attention. But lately, researchers have been taking a closer look at some other, less well-known gender disparities. A recent article in The Atlantic discussed the fact that women who choose not to wear makeup at work may lose out on promotions, salaries, and other benefits, while women who do wear makeup might reap the benefits, but lose time, money, and sleep. For women in the workplace, it seems, makeup is a mixed bag.


(Photo Credit: Brynn Tweeddale/Flickr)

It Costs to Wear Makeup and It Costs Not to Wear Makeup

Do You Know What You're Worth?

The Atlantic article analyzed several studies in which researchers examined the economic effects of wearing makeup to work. The results were mixed. On one hand, there are tangible benefits to wearing makeup on the job. One study, for example, “found that participants were more likely to award ‘prestigious jobs’ to women who were made up than to the same women when their faces were unadorned.”

Other studies show that attractive people of both genders earn more than those considered less attractive, but since societal norms assume that women wear makeup, women who wear makeup are more likely to experience the “attractiveness bonus.” These studies seem to suggest a simple outcome — women who want to earn more money should wear makeup.

But, as with most things in life, it’s not that straightforward. The article also exposed the hidden “tax” associated with cosmetics. According to some reports, the average woman will spend about $15,000 on cosmetics over the course of her life and about two weeks per year applying cosmetics. This means that women pay sometimes not-so-hidden costs of time, money, and effort in order to wear makeup.

The (Illusion of) Choice Is Yours

Now, of course, women wear cosmetics for a variety of reasons: personal style, fun, just-because, habit, confidence, etc. This post neither assumes that women only wear makeup because of pressure nor recommends that women take any particular action. But for those women who wear makeup to work, only because they feel pressured to do so, these studies present an interesting quandary. Do the employment benefits associated with wearing makeup outweigh the extra costs that come from wearing makeup? And, just as society considers ways to reduce the gender wage gap, are there steps society can take to ensure that women are not penalized for skipping makeup?

Tell Us What You Think

Are you a woman who feels pressured to wear makeup to work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Daniel Kalish
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