Status anxiety mediates the positive relationship between income inequality and sexualization.

Research Highlight

Sexy selfies fuelled by status anxiety

© Jonathan Knowles/Getty

Women who feel status anxiety in an uncertain economy are more likely to enhance their appearance to get ahead.

Economic inequality can inspire aggressive competition between men trying to assert themselves at the top. How women compete is less well understood, although studies have shown women spend more on their looks where income inequality is high.

Two researchers from the University of New South Wales used an online role play experiment to discover how social status affected women’s feelings of anxiety and how they dressed.

The duo assigned the women to virtual societies reflecting real-world economies and asked them to select an outfit for a night out in their virtual town. Women in economically unequal societies not only reported feeling more anxious about their status, but also chose more revealing clothes.

In times of economic distress, women may beautify themselves to attract a powerful, wealthy partner who can raise their social status and chances of survival.

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  1. PNAS 116 , 25029–25033 (2019). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1909806116
Institutions Authors Share
University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney), Australia
The University of Melbourne (UniMelb), Australia