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All Dolled Up

Vivia Chen

September 8, 2011

Makeup Finally, an explanation about that annoying wage gap!

According to research by Elon University's business school, it behooves women to speed it up in the morning when they're getting ready for work. Reports Rachel Emma Silverman of The Wall Street Journal:

A study cited in the Harvard Business Review found that for women, an increase in personal grooming time is associated with lower earnings. (The data comes from federal time-use surveys; grooming is defined as time spent washing and dressing oneself, including brushing, shaving, getting dressed, choosing and changing clothes, combing hair, applying moisturizers, etc.) For instance, if a white woman doubles her daily grooming from 45 minutes to a whopping 90 minutes, her earnings drop an average of 3.4 percent, found the study by researchers at Elon University.

And the effect for men? Well, no one cares--unless you're a minority. Reports the WSJ:

Grooming has no effect on white men’s earnings, but for minority men, going from 40 to 80 minutes of grooming increases earnings by some 4 percent. The researchers say grooming may counter negative stereotypes of minority men.

I'm hardly speedy, but I rarely take 80 or 90 minutes to get ready. In fact, I don't know anyone who spends that kind of time on dressing for work unless she has a steady gig as a prom queen.

But back to the study. The big question: Why are women penalized on earnings when they lavish time on their appearance? It seems counterintuitive, since goodlooking people tend to fare better on the career front. One theory, offered by the researchers, is that there are "negative stereotypes associated with an 'overly groomed' woman in the workplace," reports WSJ.

I'm not sure what "overly groomed" means, but I suspect it has to do with being overly made-up. I'm reminded of the girls I knew back in eighth grade at Johnston Jr. High in Houston--the ones who spent every free moment in the bathroom freshening up their green eye shadow and orangey foundation. And maybe these girls are still wearing too much makeup.

But let me offer another theory as to why working women who spend over an hour before the mirror might be losing money: They're always late for work.

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Well I don't think we should ever dress too sexy for the office, but in my experience, the people who dressed professionally ever day, were the ones that usually got promoted.

It is important to look the part, but you also have to act the part and make yourself so important the company would be lost without you.

I agree with Vivia on this, for once. Time spent grooming is time not spent working.

It could be that women who spend more time grooming tend to work in lower paid jobs. What would be interesting is a comparison of the relationship between grooming habits and income within a profession. Perhaps this is Rebecca's point (above) as well.

The study failed to explore cause v. effect. As reported above, it found a "correlation" between more time on grooming and less earnings. That's it. It is an assumption -- perhaps fault -- to jump to conclusion that the women earn less BECAUSE they are well groomed. It could be as simple as this: high earning women have less time for grooming and do not spend as much time on it. In which case the high earnings cause the lesser grooming, rather than vice versa.

I believe better looking women are perceived as less intelligent and less dedicated to their jobs. In my experience, some men cannot accept that a beautiful woman can also be smart.

Excellent. I love how you work the practical angle in your theory. I am tempted to spin out other theories about the characteristics of this overly groomed group that would explain their lesser earning power. But that would be mean.

It might be that women who spend a lot of time on their appearance seem "too sexy", especially if they're wearing makeup like "smoky eyes".
After all, we all know that women who make an effort with their appearance are just trying to flirt and get men in trouble, right? :p It couldn't be that she wants to feel good about herself, could it?

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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