Not in all recessions, but in some periods of economic downturn, women buy more lipstick. In 2001, during a small recession, lipstick sales bumped up. During the Depression, they bumped up 25 percent.
The pop-psychology explanation for this phenomenon is that, when funds are short, women buy cheap products that still make them feel indulged. But psychology professor Sarah Hill and her colleagues say there could be more basic explanation for these trends: Women are trying to enhance their reproductive potential in a “period of scarcity,” when baby-making (before perishing from hunger) is a greater priority.
While many journalists who have written about the lipstick effect have theorized that it represents women’s therapeutic spending on cheap indulgences, we found that the lipstick effect applies specifically to products that enhance beauty, even when those products are more expensive. Recession cues increased women’s desire to buy high-end cosmetics and designer clothing, but not to buy budget-line beauty products, which were rated less effective at improving one’s appearance.
No word yet on what the people buying greater quantities of pre-mixed cocktails, body scrubbers, refrigerated baked goods, and wine are hoping to accomplish.
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