Why so Russian women spend so much on make-up?

Galina Vladimirova is a believer in what she calls “the Russian cult of makeup.” Tucked neatly inside her purse one recent day were her latest acquisitions of lipstick and eye shadow, her first Armani purchases. They were more than twice as expensive as any makeup she had ever bought, even for a woman who spends up to $150 a month on cosmetics…

In the beauty boomtown that is Moscow today, she is no exception. Just a generation removed from the time when their mothers and grandmothers resorted to the peasant trick of reddening their cheeks with beets, Russian women today spend twice as much of their income on cosmetics as Western Europeans do — 12 percent of their entire paychecks on average, according to research firm Comcon-Pharma.

Perhaps no other cosmetics market in the world is as hot as Russia’s, which has quintupled in size over the past four years and is forecast by industry analysts to triple again, to $18 billion, by 2010…Never mind the mystifying economics of it, how a $20 tube of lipstick wouldn’t seem to make sense as a mass-market proposition in a country where average salaries have only just now hit $200 a month.

Here is the full story.

Women will compete for male attention most intensely when it matters what is to be won. So the naive Darwinian economist would expect make-up to be most popular in countries with high income inequality and few social barriers. Russia fits both descriptions. Since many poor Russian women receive an excellent education, they can at least hope to marry well if they catch male attention.

Western Europe has lower rates of income inequality and women there wear less make-up. In Brazil, and Latin America more generally, women take special care with their appearances. This is not a general theory, just some scattered observations on a small number of variables.


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