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Industry • Perspective

A Tale of Two Studies: How Qnity Is Dispelling Beauty Wage Myths With Data

Incomplete reporting on wages and hours worked harms the overall perception of the beauty industry. Qnity wants to fix that.

The beauty and wellness industry has come under fire lately on the heels of a combination of recent salary averages reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and findings regarding the Marinello Beauty School’s allegedly deceptive business practices. These reports paint a skewed picture of an industry that fails to prepare its stylists and then underpays and exploits them once they find work.

We do not want to diminish the experience of those who have been unfairly taken advantage of by predatory institutions. However, narratives often form and take on a life of their own based on incomplete information, negatively affecting those currently earning a living wage within the field and those looking to build and grow their career. These experiences are not the norm for the thousands of barbers, stylists, and salon owners currently working and enjoying success within the industry after graduating from beauty schools.

We aim to dispel these misconceptions, and the team at Qnity has done fantastic work to put actual data behind that desire. Read on to learn more about how the BLS’ findings are lacking, how Qnity’s findings challenge the BLS’ thesis, and how you can provide data to help Qnity with phase two of its study.

An incomplete picture

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the May 2021 median pay for barbers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists hovers around $29,680 per year or $14.27 per hour. 

BLS breaks this value down even further, denoting that the lowest 10% of earners make between $10-11 per hour, while the highest 10% earn between $25-$28. The median hourly wage appears to be significantly lower than the median wage of all occupations, which BLS reports at around $22 per hour.

These findings sound grim, but the BLS report lacks key information to make it reliable. According to the BLS’ methodology on data sources, field economists gather data directly from respondents through interviews via personal visits, mail correspondence, phone and video calls, and email. While the methodology isn’t an issue, it is limited — primarily because BLS does not rely on paper or online questionnaires or receive income data from other sources, like the IRS. The result is a data set shaped by informal conversation rather than an aggregate built on actually-reported data. 

The report itself also appears to be missing fundamental analyses. For example, while BLS does include state and regional income data, there is no delineation between part-time and full-time income. The report does include a percentage breakdown of self-employed workers compared to personal care service workers and retail trade workers but does not include income breakdowns for any of these categories.

Based on this information — or the lack thereof — we assert that the average income the BLS reports is not indicative of the average income of stylists, beauticians, and salon owners across the country. It is not a reliable source for determining the overall health of the beauty and wellness industry.

Predatory schools are outliers

Reports conflating predatory institutions like Marinello Beauty School with reputable organizations further muddy the waters. While it is unfortunate that Marinello took advantage of its students, this is not indicative of the average beauty student experience — students typically graduate and go on to lead fruitful careers.

Beauty institutions often list graduation and placement rates on their respective websites, and many align with or exceed those of average undergraduate programs at public colleges and universities. In 2020, Paul Mitchell The School Springfield reported a total graduation rate of 80%, a 100% licensure rate, and a placement rate of 67%. Similarly, in 2019 Paris Beauty College reported an average graduation rate of nearly 82%, a licensure rate of 91%, and a placement rate of 75%. Meanwhile, the graduation rate of students at the average two- to four-year public college is around 46%.

Reputable, accredited beauty schools provide students with the skills, tools, and proper licensing required to find success within the industry — Marinello is not the norm.

The real story

Qnity is hoping to fill gaps in BLS’ reporting and combat the stigma of the small handful of bad actors in the industry with a series of its own studies. These studies gather data from real, anonymized W-2 tax statements — a definitive source of individual stylist income. 

Qnity recently completed phase one of its investigation, which compiled data gathered between April to June 2022. The sample size includes 51 hair salons across 108 locations, with information collected from 1,219 employee W-2s.  

The results:

  • Average annual W-2 earnings: $53,338

  • Average weekly hours worked: 27

  • Average hourly wage: $37.53

  • 23% of earners would make over $100,000 adjusting hours worked to full-time

  • 80% of reported salons are women-owned

This reporting describes a much different scenario — one where stylists get to set their hours and maintain a healthy work-life balance while still making a sustainable wage. Plus, stylists are free to take on additional work to boost their income, many making six figures or more.

Help change the narrative

With phase one of the study completed, Qnity hopes to increase its sample size for phase two, which will include full-service, employee-based salons with under 20 locations. Once this survey is complete, in 2023 Qnity will roll out phase three, which adds more data segments, like independents, spas, medspas, nail salons, barbershops, massage studios, and more.

To do this, Qnity needs your help. Sign up to participate today, and Qnity will reach out with instructions on providing the necessary payroll data, along with a survey with additional questions to fill out. Don’t worry — all information collected will be aggregated and anonymized solely for this study, and company and employee data will remain highly protected and confidential. Plus, study participants will receive a report with industry-specific data and tips on how to use this information to better recruit staff and retain your best stylists.

Larger sample sizes will make for more statistically-significant reporting, and the window to submit is extremely short. Join Qnity today for phase two of their study and help represent our industry with facts, not fiction, and remove the stigma attached to the beauty industry.

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