Beauty Norms in Qingdao
+ Brandon Fuller
Over at the NYU Development Research Institute blog, Bill Easterly points to a recent story in the New York Times and suggests that economists’ recent work on social norms, culture, and development is an encouraging trend. (He suggests the work of NYU economist Alberto Bisin.)
The article centers on a social norm about beauty in China, namely that fair skin is preferable to weathered skin. Like many beaches, Qingdao No. 1 Beach is adorned with umbrellas and even tents to shade people from the sun. But to protect their faces, some women adopt the additional precaution of wearing nylon masks while out from the cover of shade.
As economic conditions improve in China, the demand for leisure activities rises and some women find new ways, including masks, to protect their skin while enjoying the outdoors. The motivations for avoiding sun-exposure aside, the norm seems efficient from a health perspective as it leaves women less vulnerable to sun-related skin conditions.
Whether attitudes about sun-exposure will shift as incomes continue to rise in China remains to be seen. After recent press on the masks, Qingdao’s shop owners reported that the local government tried to discourage sales. It’s not clear why local authorities would do this but the fact that some women continue to go to great lengths to protect their skin, despite changing economic incentives and alleged government bans, is a testament to how persistent social norms can be.