Jack Black Beard Lube. Just for Men Hair Colour. Hydra Energetic Ice Cold Eye Roller. The number of made-for-men personal care products is constantly expanding. The question is: why?
The LA Times argues that it's about staying competitive in a youth-focused workplace. As Canada’s middle class shrinks, and income inequality grows, the contest to be the best is intensifying. It’s a never ending battle: to escape minimum wage drudgery and get a cubicle of one’s own; to work one’s way up to an office with a window; to grasp a position that offers respect and autonomy.
But does Lush Cosmetic Lad moisturizer or Kiehl's Facial Fuel Transformer increase the odds of getting into the corner office? Economists have found that better-looking people earn more, but it is hard to establish a connection between grooming and earnings.
One of the few papers to address the issue, by noted economist Daniel Hamermesh, found that “Additional spending on clothing and cosmetics has a generally positive marginal impact on a woman’s perceived beauty.” (The study did not include men.) Yet clothes and cosmetics are, it turns out, a fairly dubious human capital investment. Hamermesh and co-authors estimated that each additional dollar women spent on “primping” generated just 15 cents of additional earnings.
There is another problem with the theory that men’s grooming products are the product of a tough economy: the timing is off. L’Oréal, for example, identified men’s products as an area of high growth potential back in 2005, before the economic crisis. Men are changing, L’Oréal’s marketers reasoned, “they are no longer so bound by their traditional roles.”
Yes, what it means to be a man is shifting. For a example, a recent Statistics Canada study found that young men’s and women’s economic roles are converging. Young men spend more time on household work than their fathers did at the same age. Traditionally male sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, have shrunk, while more female-dominated sectors, such as health care, have grown, leaving men searching for new paths to success.
Yet the marketing of men’s grooming products reinforces gender differences, instead of blurring them. Force Biotherm Homme conveys physical strength with its “powerful masculine woody bottom scents.” L’Oréal’s new Hydra Energetic Turbo-Booster Moisturizer, a kick-start wake-up moisturizing fluid, sounds like something for an engine. David Beckham’s tattooed, muscular arms are the distinctly masculine image selling beckham-fragrances.com . So I am not sure that I entirely buy the shifting gender roles explanation.
Sometimes the most persuasive story is the simplest one: marketers are selling men skin cream and other products because they can. The female cosmetics market is saturated. The growth in income (and ability to afford over-priced moisturizer) that women experienced as they entered the labour market in large numbers from the 1970s onwards has slowed.
Cosmetics companies needed to find new markets, and why not men? They have money to spend. They feel insecure about getting old. They want to be successful, and attractive to the opposite sex. They enjoy smelling good and feeling good. Men and women are not so different after all.
So forget about buying a tie for Father’s Day – there is a whole new world of grooming products for him to explore.
Frances Woolley is a professor of economics at Carleton University