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


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.”


"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?

robyn ann goldstein

There are no free lunches here. Looks can be and are, in this instance, deceptive. What do I mean? I mean that a real empirical and real mathematics orientation produces refutations of any and every approach of an intellectual sort that asks for meaning and not for the Understanding which is the general characteristic of all scientific knowledge generally and of sociological knowledge in particular.

copyright Robyn Ann Goldstein. All rights reserverd. No two words of this text may be used without permission of the authors.


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.

robyn ann goldstein

You all missed the point so allow me to clear the matter up. Every one of the very "few" individuals who have made a real original contribution to this "Longitudinal investigation" that Comte initiated and, with Spencer's help, that Harriet Martineau made it possible for Comte to get off the ground i.e., as in to continue (thanks to and including Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, W.E. B. Du Bois, Marriane Weber, George Simmel, Sigmund Freud, Joan Riviere, Albert Einstein, Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton and a few friends of whom I have not mentioned) did it their way and in their own words and made sure that they acknowledged the one person who enabled them to do it. In the case of my teacher and mentor and real friend Professor Joe Bensman, he had the integrity both to acknowledge how a paper that I had written (1982) changed his' perspective towards "relativities" and to explain in an autobiographical statement his motivation for keeping such knowledge to himself. (See it on-line) And he did it his' way (in his' own words) by preserving his own integrity and that of his' students and teacher Hans Gerth. I have no monetary motivation other than to preserve my rights to publish the results of my research and to be acknowledged accordingly as have all (but a few women and one man) did previously. An unfair system that this should correct. My real motivation is for us all in the sciences to really be in such a position to move right on.



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.


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?

Enter your name...

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.


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.


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


A model in Egypt who reads Freakonomics! You made my day. Best wishes as your country discovers its path forward.

Mike B

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 :-(


Perhaps Marilyn Monroe had no choice if she wished to succeed in her day i.e., as in brains or beauty. I do. And it really will be my ways and the `high' way.


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?

Mayuresh Gaikwad

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?


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?


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

Ethan Long - Ethan5 Photography

Really? Is this a surprise to the readers? As an art photographer, I typically pay models a market rate of $50 to $75 an hour. All of the "full time" models I know must endure grueling travel schedules in order to keep working - including weekends. If they are lucky, they can save $100 a night by crashing at the photographer's house on the couch, staying with friends, or rolling the dice on couchsurfing.org for a free stay. Most assignments are not a full 8 hours or more, but typically 4 hours. Factoring travel days between cities, that generally offers them 2 to 3 working days per week of 4 hour days. Some of the more prominent models who are willing to do nudes can command $100 an hour, but that is also usually negotiated down toward $75 / $50 an hour (for confirmed shoots at a half-day or full-day). Fashion and editorials (i.e., non nudes) pay much less. Over 52 weeks per year, I'm not surprised at that average income. As of this writing, there are approximately 599,800 aspiring and professional "models" on networking sites like Modelmayhem and OneModelPlace.


caleb b

"they can save $100 a night by crashing at the photographer’s house on the couch"


So what you are saying is that the real benefits are for the photographer.

Ahmed Zghari

Evidently the mean average must be skewed by the few supermodels that earn mega-millions lottery amounts. But that is the typical measure for ordinary folk: the [mean] average salary is....and the [mean] average house price is....

Why not release these figures with a little more intel, preferably the standard deviation so that those who report on the figures can pick-up the relative amounts compared to, say, someone who works in a factory production line or Wal-Mart register?

Hmm, its not only beauty that is skin deep, statistics can be too.

Gary G

Median, not mean.

Ahmed Zghari

I don't wish to be mean, but...10 blondes earning $100 per shoot is the same as one super-model brunette earning $1,000 per shoot. One would assume that average earnings for a model is $180, unless you use the median average, or the mode average which give the average as $100.

My gripe is that in society we typically measure and report mean average earnings, yet this study reports a median score. Nothing wrong with that, until you want to evaluate its relevance for the average Joe or Juliet.


I'm not sure what statistical sources you usually use, but the median is the most reasonable score for identifying an "average Joe or Juliet" in matters of income, precisely because income statistics are notoriously easy to skew (Bill Gates walks into a crowded local bar; suddenly the mean income is so much greater that everyone in the bar except Bill Gates is earning massively less than 'average'), and the median, identifying the point at which half earn less and half earn more, is less affected by this than mean is. There are more effective ways of dealing with the skew problem, but none so straightforward as the median. Indeed, median income is such a standard statistic that you can usually bet that people making use of mean income as their primary income statistic are trying to pull a fast one.

To put it in other words: mean on its own never, ever identifies an "average Joe or Juliet" because it quite literally only deals with *income*; median, on the other hand, does identify an "average Joe or Juliet" precisely because it looks at Joes and Juliets. The mean gives you a measure of *average income*, in particular by telling you what the income would be if it were all equally divided; the median gives you a measure of *the income earned by an average income earner*, by identifying what one's income has to be to be in the middle of the income-earning population. No respectable study genuinely interested in the "average Joe or Juliet" will ever rely primarily on the mean.



Validation and status are two of the reasons people put up with it. I think they are more important factors than the lottery Mears mentions. Validation is probably the reason guys do porn too.


Not surprising - especially considering the number includes Everyone down to Kmart models.

The profession has many intangible benefits that makes a lot of people WANT to be in the profession. My husband works in sports - and there will always be a plethora of eager young bucks to replace him. The result? Unless you're at the very very top - you are overworked and underpaid.

Same same - people think you are automatically cool/beautiful/etc, high demand to be in the career plus low supply, and hard to make oneself irreplaceable.....

Makes sense.


I had a teacher who offered the followed the advice. Wanna succeed-- become irreplaceable. I took it.

Andreas Moser

Do you think I could be a model: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/style/ ?

caleb b

My best friend's sister is a model in L.A. When I say Model, I more or less mean that she is pretty and occasionally gets paid to pose for pictures. Her real income comes from dating wealthy older men. She'll tell you, it's a tough business to make it in and it only lasts for a short time. Although, she has gone to some awesome parties on several celeb’s yachts.


i'd be curious to see what qualifies someone as being 'a fashion model'. this probably includes the 5'6'' female 'fashion model' who participates in local fashion shows and who works for free

those rates from Chloe Schama are absolutely not accurate for models signed with top tier agencies

Wes Ykema

I'm signed with a small mid-western agency, and even their minimum rate is $100/hr, 95% of the jobs pay at least $125/hr. These statistics have to include freelance "models" who shoot once a month, at best.

Enter your name...

The bigger question is this: are you an "employee" or an "independent contractor"? Because the government statistics only count the first, which is going to cover a lot more people who model one afternoon a month for the big wedding store in town than people who do one-time advertising gigs.

Dan Farnst

There are so many types of models out there who work in one or more of so many areas it's pretty impossible to make any sense out of what a median income means. And certainly there are a lot of models who don't have the look and personality to get all the free drinks and entry to glamorous events. The business has made us think that that's the way it is for any model but there is a small handful who represent that type and they're mostly scattered around NY, Paris and a few other locations. The overall look of a model's work drops off drastically when you leave the world of high fashion. That's not only due to the look of the model but also how much talent today's limited budgets can buy when it comes to all the others involved in a shoot including the photographer. My sister was a model in the early 80's and her best year was around 300k. That was rarely heard of back then but she wasn't a household name. She certainly worked with household names including Brooke Shields, Paulina, etc. She was based out of NY and went from Elite, to Willy, to Ford through her 10 year career. But think of all the models who do runway shows in malls for $15/hour. You'd have to do a LOT of those to make more than the stated median.

I live in NYC and it's pretty easy to spot a model. Many are tall and very, very lanky to the point of being unattractive. You mention the word model in this city and everybody's eyes light up but the fact is when you factor in the fact that some people photograph much better than they look in person (not just because of light and make up but also because of the difference between a live person in 3d and a flat photo) and the fact that there are so few with what I would guess the average man would consider an aesthetically attractive body, there just aren't that many overall attractive models.

Of course, I'm getting away from the income issue but if you want a tall skinny 18 year old girl with no hips and no breasts, a NYC model is for you (and a LOT of them smoke, to boot)


Tonton W

Fashion model = Professional narcissist

robyn ann goldstein

The question is who is the narcissist here? I don't mean to be rude, but everyone really involved in this investigation thus far was merely doing their job i.e., the job they volunteered for of making it possible to demonstrate the true value of honesty and integrity when it comes to the potential for Social Science to encompass all of the sciences. So I guess, you have your work cut out for you now, too. Go read previous blogs under my name and figure it out in your own words. Then you too can claim some real immortality for yourself. Otherwise, a cheap shot!

Louise LeMans

When was the last time a legit model appeared on the cover of Vogue and not a celeb?


That's actually higher than I expected. I'd figure there'd be a ton of competition in the low ranks for the chance to make it big, ala sports players, with lots of models settling for low paying gigs trying to "get noticed". Though this may only be amount professional models, not those working other jobs while trying to break it.

robyn ann goldstein

fyi. I did not start this. Wanted to wait to publish when finished. A friend of mind squeeled. I fought for my honor (as in right) as any healthy individual scientist would and should. Guess he knew me better than I did myself. I did not need to break in. The problem was of breaking the mold that was preventing all the sciences (and perhaps you too) from moving foreward. I do suggest you look up my name and follow the "line" or "path" of reasoning.

George Macalister

Classic winner take all industry, duh! Not to mention with a few good years at best. As for the glamour content mentioned somewhere, that's also a myth.

robyn ann goldstein

Dear George M;

Winners take all. With heartfelt Thanks and warm wishes..


Is that salary/wage, or total compensation? That is, does the income include free clothing/shoes or other benefits?