Fun economic indicator: Women’s hair styles

Following up my post on the stock market’s effects on Sazae-san viewership, I wanted to show you something fun I saw in the Nikkei:

Friday, February 15, 2008
Women’s Locks Hold Key To Forecasting Economic Outlook

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Women tend to wear their hair long when the nation’s economy is up and short when it is down, a survey conducted over the past two decades by consumer goods manufacturer Kao Corp. shows. As concern grows about a possible economic downturn, will this hairstyle trend repeat itself, or will something new happen?

Kao has been regularly surveying the hairstyles of 1,000 women on the streets of Tokyo’s Ginza and Osaka’s Umeda districts since 1987. In 1991, the firm defined “short” hair as above the chin, “medium” as above the collarbone, “semi-long” as above the armpit and “long” as below the armpit.

Taking the “short” and “medium” categories together as “short” and the “semi-long” and “long” categories as “long,” the long-short ratio for women in their 20s turned in favor of “short” in Ginza for the first time in 1997. The diffusion index of coincident economic indicators, published by the Economic Planning Agency (now the Cabinet Office), reached zero in November and December of that year, the first two-month streak of that kind in five and a half years. The economy is thought to be deteriorating when the index drops below 50%. That year also saw a boost in the consumption tax and a series of major bankruptcies, including that of Yamaichi Securities Co., and in 1998 the economy contracted.

Until 1990, over 60% of women in their 20s kept their hair long. But since 1997, the percentage of women wearing long hair has remained under 10%. That figure has been rising again lately, but without the briskness that would signal a return to past levels.

How has the length of women’s hair, assuming a linkage with the health of the economy, influenced related businesses? The market for hairstyling products, such as hairsprays and gels, are estimated to have peaked in 1994 at 102.5 billion yen in terms of shipments. Then it showed year-on-year decreases for a while, along with falling per capita spending on styling products. Although about 80% of women continued to use those products, they used them less frequently, switching sometimes to products like waxes for the tips of the hair. The market hit bottom in 2004 at 59 billion yen, ending a “lost decade” for hairstyling products.

Though the longest economic expansion since the end of World War II has continued, the consumer confidence index fell for 10 months running to hit a record low for six years and one month in January, according to the Cabinet Office’s Economy Watchers survey released on Feb. 8. With many observers talking about a downturn, Kao’s data suggest that women’s hair will likely get shorter again.

“Women’s hair may get shorter, but shorter hairstyles will not dominate,” said Kotaro Nuriya, brand manager at Kao’s Premium Hair Care/Hair Make Group. He bases his view on the fact that a growing number of women are pulling their hair together in the back or up, as in the chignon style. Kao began including the chignon in its survey in November 2002, and its use has risen 10% to about 30% among women in their 20s recently.


While it might not be surprising to see that women are forced to make choices on which cosmetics to use when they are low on disposable income, it’s funny how predictable this survey makes it seem. Also, this so-called boom time has still been one of low economic growth and has occurred at a time when wages remained stagnant for Japanese overall and growing economic disparity has been an overarching theme, especially in the past two years. With prices rising now during a period of economic slowdown, I’ll have to be on the watch for more faux-expensive hairstyles. They will go great with the cheap clothes/expensive bag look that’s so popular these days.

PS: I wonder if the beehive was the product of a booming economy?

3 thoughts on “Fun economic indicator: Women’s hair styles”

  1. You can see what hairstyle experts are predicting for the year 2008 to be in fashion at There is a definite continuance of last years growth of shorter hairstyles in 2008. Mainly medium length bobs are the most popular style, bobs with bangs and layered and choppy looks. Does this mean that economic growth is slowing right down? Well long hairstyles are still fashionable, sleek straight and romantic long curls are in, but definitely the most popular styles are short and choppy.

    My hair is staying long, I am taking no chances!

  2. Would you please tell us where you obtained the figure from? It’s not included (at least in the archived version) of the article you link to. Thanks.

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