Bryan Caplan  

Hair Length and the Demand for Haircuts, II

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Several readers basically share my solution to the haircutting puzzle. Namely:

Hair length per se is irrelevant to the demand for haircuts. What matters is the acceptable range of hair length - roughly speaking, the difference between the shortest acceptable length and the longest acceptable length. If your hair grows an inch per month, and the acceptable length ranges from 2 to 4 inches, you need a haircut every two months. If the acceptable length ranges from 21 inches to 21.5 inches, you need a cut every two weeks.

As one reader observed, however, it is likely that acceptable length and the range of acceptable lengths are correlated. When short hair is in fashion, you have to stay between, say, .5 and 1.5 inches. But when long hair is in fashion, you have more latitude - anything between say 10 and 14 inches is OK. As a practical matter, then, demand for haircuts is higher when the fashionable length is short.


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Jadagul writes:

I don't have a source to cite, but it's my understanding that hair grows more slowly as it gets longer. This should reduce demand for haircuts as style favors longer hair, since it will take longer to grow beyond the acceptable range.

dearieme writes:

Won't there be a spike of demand in response to (some) changes in fashion?

Karl Smith writes:

The relationship is more complex and likely to favor shorter hair.

Haircuts are need not simply because of the acceptable length of the hair but because of the condition of the hair.

Short hair has to be styled more often. Frequent styling damages the hair causing split ends and a frizzy look. This can only be remedied by a hair cut.

Shorter hair also more frequently relies on advanced techiniques such as layering which require more frequent cutting to maintain the effect.

There may also be some interesting hedonic effects. Cutting and styling shorter hair typically requires more skill than cutting longer hair. Therefore, the demand for high-end stylists should be greater.

If what we are measuring is not the number of hair cuts but haircutting service then the demand should be significantly greater durring short trends.

Sean writes:

As I see it when hairstyle is short then you also have some leeway to your style you might gell your hair for instance. If that is the case then you might not always have to get your haircut as many times as when it is not gelled. Therefore you also have an acceptable length only still having to get it cut more times than any type of longer hairstyle.

Eric Brailsford-Cato writes:

The demand for haircuts is alot different for different races. As a black male I try to get a haircut every week (when im at home and not at school). Also on average i think white males are more likely to have longer hair just because it is more in style, and the few black males that have long hair don't really get it cut. As for black woman, they tend to not get their hair cut as much just becuase its harder for them to grow back. I believe that the demand for haircuts varies ALOT for different races.

Antoine Bideau writes:

I do not agree with you that the demand is higher when the short hair is in fashion.
I am speaking of personal experience, i use to have long hair andwhen i did have long hair i had to go cut my hair about every 3 or 4 weeks too keep it decent looking. However now i have my hair short and i take care of my own hair, i cut it myself. now i do not have to spend any money on taking care of my hair.

Heather P writes:

I found this blog pretty interesting. However, I feel that even though "fashion" sets the standard for acceptable lengths it doesn't set the rate at which your hair grows. I don't think its a safe assumption to make that length determines demand for hair cuts b/c if longer hair is in at the time you will want your hair at, lets say exactly 12", and you will cnt to have it cut that length.

Clint writes:

Yes, in some ways you are correct I believe but in other ways I believe you are incorrect. When you look at haircuts you first should look at gender. Females are always getting their hair done to keep it the perfect length unlike males who tend to let it get a little off at times. Sure, the demand may be higher when shorter hair is in style but is this just for males? Simply, Females always have a demand for keeping their hair very neat and the appropriate range no matter if they are going for short or long hair. Also, I would like to know how you determined that their ever was an acceptable range? I have almost never seen anyone just have short hair or just long hair it has always been a mixture. Did you take a census on hair type’s or a sample of the population?

Thomas B. writes:

I think the range analysis is a nice one. All the same, here's an alternative that might still have some merit, suggesting short hair lowers the demand for cuts:

Fashionable hair length is not a stochastic process, it's on a feedback system (it seems we will never prefer hair that is several feet long, it fluctuates between long and short).

So when the fashion is short, there is an increased likelihood the fashionable style is on a lengthening trend. When hair is long, there is an increased likelihood the fashionable style is on a shortening trend.

If you have short hair, and what's fashionable is getting longer, you don't need a haircut to stay fashionable.

If you have long hair, and what's fashionable is getting shorter, the opposite is true.

So if the fashion is for short hair, then it's likely most people can ride out the change in fashion without getting any haircut at all.

Eric H writes:

This reminds me of the old "topping your fuel tank causes gas shortages" canard. It just ain't true that keeping the tank full causes a shortage because purchasing 2 gallons every day results in no more gasoline consumption than purchasing 14 gallons every week. The average fuel in your tank increases, but the average fuel used is only a function of your driving.

Well, more specifically, it's a function of the amount of time that you run the engine, which may admittedly go up as the result of sitting in long lines in order to top off, but that's an infinitesimally small amount, especially if you shut your engine off when not moving for long periods of time. And I don't buy the idea that it takes more fuel to start the car than to run it, especially if the run time in question is greater than 30 seconds (a tank fill-up takes ~ 5 minutes, much less if it's only 2 gallons), so I typically kill the engine when in slow-moving drive-up window lines. But I digress. A lot.

In effect, topping off is no more than shifting storage from their tank to yours. And your fuel use efficiency may go down because you are carrying more average weight in the tank (roughly 13/7 the per gallon weight in a 14 gallon tank if you fill up a 14 gallon tank at 12 rather than ~0). That's not very rational, is it? Oh well, you can always make up for your energy use ignorance in the voting booth.

triticale writes:

Fashion is only one determinant of (male) hairlength, which forms a bell curve around the norm. My son now chooses stubble, and runs a clipper with a minimal fence over his head once a week. My own hair has, as noted above, effectively stopped growing (more correctly stopped gaining length) at about fifteen inches.

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