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How Is Getting Cosmetic Surgery Different From Buying a New Car?

The American Society for Aesthetic Cosmetic Surgery released its annual statistical report this week. It makes for surprisingly interesting reading.
The headline is that total procedures (surgical and non-surgical) fell by 12 percent between 2007 and 2008. If anything, that decline strikes me as small. In economic terms, cosmetic surgery would be thought of as a luxury durable good that is a discretionary purchase. When the economy temporarily turns south, durable-good purchases plunge (e.g. automobiles) as consumers delay buying. Luxury goods are also hurt especially badly when the economy tanks. My guess is that the overall 12 percent decline in cosmetic procedures masks an automobile-industry-like decline in the last few months of 2008.
There is a key difference between the auto and cosmetic surgery industries, however. If you delay the purchase of a new car, your current car gets older and more rundown until you finally have no choice but to purchase a new one. Your body also gets older and more rundown, but unlike with a car, when things get too far gone, you just give up and never have the cosmetic fix-ups done.
Here are the statistics. People who are 35 to 50 years old get the most cosmetic work done, accounting for roughly 45 percent of the business. People in the 51- to 64-year-old range represent 26 percent of the procedures. People 65 and over, however, are responsible for only 6 percent of all the procedures.
Within procedures, there are further strong age patterns. Breast augmentation and nose jobs are heavily tilted toward the young. Tummy tucks are for 35- to 50-year-olds. People between 51 and 64 get facelifts.
Unlike the auto industry (although maybe not American automakers), which presumably will come back extremely strong, people might permanently skip their cosmetic procedures. Moreover, cosmetic procedures are complements with each other; if you never get that breast augmentation when you are young, or the tummy tuck in your forties, the value of a facelift when you are 60 is probably dramatically reduced.
How much longer can the Obama administration turn a deaf ear to the needs of the cosmetic surgery industry? It is long past time for a bailout.