Drop That Makeup Brush and Get to Work!

Last Updated Sep 18, 2011 7:13 PM EDT

I've heard many explanations for the pay gap between men and women, but researchers Jyoti Das and Stephen DeLoach, both of Elon University, have been investigating one aspect of pay that frankly would never have occurred to me: The relationship between the amount of time men and women spend getting ready for work with the amount of money they make.

Luckily, Das and DeLoach didn't have to hover over men and women as they shaved and curled their hair in the morning. Instead, they used data from federal time use surveys, which define "grooming" as time spent washing and dressing oneself, including brushing, shaving, choosing and changing clothes, getting dressed, combing hair, applying moisturizers, and so forth. Their findings:

  • For white women, more time grooming means less pay. Those who spend 90 minutes getting ready each day make 3.4 percent less than those who spend just 45 minutes. Considering that attractive people are known to make more money than those who are less attractive, this is a bit surprising. Then again, maybe women who are beautiful don't need to spend much time primping.
  • For black men, more time spent grooming has the opposite effect-those who spend 80 minutes each day in such activities make about four percent more than those who spend 40 minutes each day grooming. But for other men, the amount of time the spend grooming doesn't make any difference to their pay.
The researchers say that for women, the drop in pay "may have to do with negative stereotypes associated with an 'overly groomed' woman in the workplace. In the case of black men, the researchers suggest that a meticulous appearance may counter negative stereotypes.
If minority men believe they are scrutinized more for their appearance than white men, they may be willing to invest more time in grooming to counter that perception.
Who has time for this?
Like many studies, this one finds a correlation between time spent grooming and pay. It's not currently possible to derive a hard-and-fast cause-and-effect from the research. I don't know much about the negative stereotypes of overly groomed white women or less-groomed black men that the researchers cite. But maybe:
  • It's possible that for some women, high pay comes first, then a quick morning routine. It seems plausible that a woman with a big well-paying job (never mind a family) might be more likely to have a relatively straightforward wardrobe, an easy-care haircut and a lack of interest in whether she's wearing this season's eye shadow.
  • Maybe those who take 90 minutes to get ready in the morning are just slow-moving and indecisive. Maybe they're inefficient on the job, too.
  • Maybe women who take 90 minutes to get ready in the morning are habitually late to work. Yes, I'm being a bit flip here, and maybe I'm outing myself as a severe under-groomer, but 90 minutes? Every day? What are these people doing? Anyone care to fill me in?
RELATED: Image courtesy of flickr user ThiagoJ
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer editor and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.