Beauty and Barber Shops: The Trend of Labor Productivity

By Brand, Horst; Ahmed, Ziaul | Monthly Labor Review, March 1986 | Go to article overview

Beauty and Barber Shops: The Trend of Labor Productivity


Brand, Horst, Ahmed, Ziaul, Monthly Labor Review


Beauty and barber shops: the trend of labor productivity

Output per hour of persons employed in the beauty and barber shop industries rose at an average annual rate of 0.8 percent between 1972 and 1984.(1) Other industries with a high personal service component show roughly comparable trend rates, including the hotel and motel industry.

Output of beauty and barber shops remained virtually unchanged between 1972 and 1984, while hours dipped 0.6 percent a year. (See table 1.) The comparative weakness in output and hours was linked to sharp contractions in the number of barber shops. Beauty shops recorded some gains in output and a small long-term rise in hours.2

The output-per-hour trend rates for the two industries combined, as well as for beauty shops separately, mask pronounced year-to-year fluctuations. These, in part, reflected short-term volatility in the productivity mainly of beauty shops. Such volatility has probably been linked with lags in the adjustment of labor inputs to output changes-- accounting for a relatively tight supply of labor in relation to output in "good' years, and for excess supply in "off' years. In beauty shops, productivity fluctuated between a rise of 8 percent (in 1984) and a drop of 6 percent (in 1976). The gains were associated with output rising more than hours (or with hours declining)--except in 1981 when productivity increased because of a decline in output that was less than a decline in hours. Losses were all linked with a decrease in output accompanied by additional hours.

A change in the productivity trend in the two industries occurred after 1976. Between 1972 and 1976, output per hour fell in both industries; in beauty shops, it decreased at an average annual rate of nearly 4 percent. Subsequently, it rose 2.4 percent a year. The productivity drop during the 1972-76 period was to some extent associated with a strong increase in the service capacity of beauty shops, as indicated by expanding self-employment--accompanied by a change in hair styling fashions that reduced certain styling service requirements. The productivity rise after 1976 was linked with declining self-employment, and with fashion changes that called for more styling services.

Demand and output

Beauty shops render up to 12 distinct types of services; barber shops up to eight. Workers in both industries mainly cut hair; many establishments confine their service to hair cutting. In addition to haircuts, full-service beauty shops offer permanents, coloring, conditioning, and manicures; a few offer pedicures. A limited number of shops also perform facials and other cosmetical skin treatments. They also fit and service wigs. Their patrons often include men. The range of barber shop services is generally narrower, although styling and shampooing of men's hair have increased somewhat in importance. Women are also served.

Service output of beauty shops did not display a notably strong long-term trend, rising at an average annual rate of 1.4 percent between 1972 and 1984. Service output of barber shops declined at a rate of 4.8 percent a year during that period. The decline in barber shop output was somewhat erratic. The long-term uptrend in beauty shop service output obscures a rather sharp falloff between 1972 and 1976 that was subsequently reversed. Until 1976, beauty shop service output dipped 3.3 percent a year; thereafter it rose 2.6 percent a year. Neither the output of total consumer services nor of the consumer service industries for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics computes pertinent measures so strongly reversed trend during the decade (average annual rates, in percent):3

Among reasons is that beauty shops are subject to changes in hair styling fashions, and these were quite far-reaching during the 1970's. Such changes have often shifted some elements of hair care from beauty and barber shops to the home (do-it-yourself), and vice versa. …

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