What’s the Median Income for a Fashion Model in the U.S.?

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Take a wild guess: How much do you think fashion models make? It’s one of those professions that unless you know someone, or work in the biz, there’s not a lot of information out there to have a good view into. Judging by models’ perceived glamour and high society status, not to mention the cut-throat competition they deal with, you might think it’s a lot. I think I did. Which is why this line from a TNR review of the new book Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model struck me as amazing:

The median income across America in 2009 for a model was $27,330—income that includes no benefits.

The book is by Ashley Mears, a former fashion model and current Boston University sociologist. From the TNR review, written by Chloe Schama, here are some other insights into the strange world of fashion model economics:

  • The average magazine shoot pays about $100 a day. For appearing on the cover of Vogue a model gets an additional $300.
  • Payment for walking in a Fashion Week show in London is $500.
  • The super sought-after “high-end campaign”—for a fragrance or some other luxury good pays, on average, about $100,000.
  • The question of what makes a good model is prone to the greatest illogic and shrouded by the most impermeable mystery. A distinct “editorial” look is one that, in Mears’s words sits “on the border between beautiful and ugly.”

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  1. rationalrevolution says:

    “The median income across America in 2009 for a model was $27,330—income that includes no benefits.”

    So you’re saying that free cocaine isn’t a benefit?

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    • robyn ann goldstein says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Joe says:

        Confused. What does that have to do with free lunch? What do you mean?

        P.S. If no two words of you comment can be used without permission, you ought to check out the widespread use of the words “free lunch”. Apparently there is a lot of money for you to be made with copyright infringement.

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      • robyn ann goldstein says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • PaulD says:

        OK, I take it back. You’re not antisocial — you’ve got some mental health issues. I hope friends and family can steer you towards some help.

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      • PaulD says:

        Is that your real name? It’s rare to encounter this type of antisocial behavior from a woman. I bet you’re proud of yourself for shattering the expectations of the paternalistic bourgeoisie.

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      • scientist-at-large says:

        I do hope that the truth hurts enough for all to work it out for yourselves. Is this not the whole point of what we gain from such an enterprise as this one of ours. No genuine pain, no real gain.

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      • R says:

        I replied to a ridiculous comment by Robin on slate.com recently, and I see the similarities here. She’s a nutjob or a troll.

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  2. duong says:

    But how many days a year do they really work? If you average out their per hour rate, won’t it be higher than average?

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    • Enter your name... says:

      The BLS reports a median (not mean) hourly wage of $15.83 for models in May 2010.

      People who want a more complete description of the statistics should look at http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes419012.htm

      NB that if the book is citing an earlier version of this stats set, that it excludes “self-employed” (rather than regular employee) models, which might not be entirely accurate for this particular industry.

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  3. Chad says:

    My initial guess was a little high (38K) but not out of the ballpark. The thing to remember is that the supply for models is probably quite large so unless you become a household name/face, you can be easily replaced. Thus, the relatively low wages.

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  4. Sofia says:

    I’m a model working in Egypt and thank you this statistics made me feel better about my own income :)

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  5. Mike B says:

    This sort of pay scale makes me wonder if people participating in this sort of tournament style industry are either doing it as a fun side hobby in conjunction with a day job, are incredibly ignorant, are incredibly desperate or both ignorant and desperate. I would hope it is the first one in that last, but I suspect it is the latter with many models working for low pay, but with the misguided hope that it is their ticket to making it big. It would be a real shame if they were also facing high opportunity costs for this decision, perhaps passing up education or better job opportunities to model or, in a worst case, damaging their health to maintain a desirable look and/or going into debt to finance their careers.
    Reminds me of the original Freakomonics chapter on how most drug dealers make less than minimum wage :-(

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    • ragstoriches says:

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    • Enter your name... says:

      I believe that it’s much like drug dealers and actors: they’re “paying their dues” now and hope that they’ll make it to the “big time” eventually.

      The average income for a member of the Screen Actors Guild is about $5000 a year, but if you took the typical hourly wage for screen and live-theater actors, and pretended they worked 40 hours/week at a steady, year-round job, it would be about $30,000 a year.

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      • science minded says:

        My daughter wants to be an actress/dancer. I am not discouraging her from doing what she loves. IF it ends up as a side-line. So be it. Her life still will have real meaning for her. Is this not what is important. I was talking to a cousin of mine today. He never went to college. Was discouraged from pursuing real meaningful work. He is turning 60, just recently lost his job and has great people skills, a great voice over presence, but no formal education. Now what? I encouraged him to gain some skill and continue to work at sorting the matter out. Sometimes it is too late to pursue a dream like mine to play all of Chopin’s waltzes, but never too late to find real meaning. (when i can, buy back the piano that I had to sell to make ends meet and learn one of them real well).

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    • phr3dly says:

      A coworker at my last job was a software engineer by day, and a model on the weekends. No doubt the software gig paid far more than the modeling gig.

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    • Wes Ykema says:

      I’m a manufacturing engineer by day, and I dabble in modeling during my evenings and weekends. Promo work usually pays $15-$25/hour, photoshoots range from unpaid (trade for pictures, generally with accomplished photographers, which in turn helps my portfolio and networking contacts) to $250/hour for buy-out advertising jobs (Dicks Sporting Goods, Little Tykes, etc.). Work is very infrequent, but annually will net me about the same amount as working 10 hrs/week for $8/hr at Best Buy.

      I have friends that model professionally and turn down jobs paying $200/hr or less.

      If you want to see my work, run a search for my name :)

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  6. Gary says:

    Is the data restricted to professionals — those who have been in the business for several years, essentially full-time — or does it include the part-timers — 18-to-25 year-olds who do a few photo shoots as an irregular, part-time opportunity?

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  7. Mayuresh Gaikwad says:

    Is that counting all models, including those who look at it as an avocation rather than a vocation and have another job that keeps the stove in their kitchen running?

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  8. Rob says:

    You’re ignoring the glamour involved – invitations to parties where they often pay no entry and spend little nothing on drinks, etc, etc so there are some benefits…

    Anyway, it’s not surprising modelling does not that pay incredibly well – it is an intensely competitive market where the barriers to entry are incredibly low – perceived good looks (not THAT uncommon).

    In addition, many young women with photoshop and some good make up could fit the profile of a model, so why should walking up and down a catwalk and posing for some photos be rewarded handsomely unless you are particularly well-known or famous?

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    • Sam says:

      I don’t think women with model quality looks have problems getting invited to parties or free drinks regardless of their career choice.

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