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How Your Race, Age and Income Motivate Your Pursuit of Cosmetic Surgery

April 30, 2020
American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS)

As the population of the United States becomes more diverse, so too do the attitudes toward plastic surgery and individual motivations in seeking aesthetic work. Now plastic surgeons put these factors under the microscope as a way to better understand their patients and expand their outreach.

In a study published in the May edition of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, researchers for the first time investigated patients' individual attitudes and motivations for surgery based on demographic information.

Lead researcher Paris Butler, MD, from the University of Pennsylvania, and his colleagues surveyed 172 patients about what influenced their decisions to undergo cosmetic surgery. Of those surveyed, 62 percent were 50 years old or younger and 85 percent of respondents were female. Caucasian patients represented 54 percent of respondents, followed by African-American patients at 38 percent. Due to the low frequency of participants who identified as Latino/Hispanic or Asian, these racial/ethnic categories were collapsed into the "Other" group (8.14 percent).

Highlights of the report's findings include:

  • African-American patients indicating they were more willing to travel more than 100 miles for a surgeon of the same ethnicity or race, to consider international surgery, to report that social standards did not influence their decision for surgery and to view the buttocks as the female feature that most defines attractiveness within their race or ethnicity.
  • Patients who had incomes higher than $125,000 and those over the age of 50 saying they were more likely to seek a surgeon of the same gender, more likely to believe that a same-gender surgeon could provide better results on their selected procedure, be influenced by societal standards to pursue surgery and define the female face as the most attractive feature within their race/ethnicity.
  • Patients who had college or graduate degrees indicating they were more likely to believe a surgeon of the same race and gender would provide a better result and argued that societal standards could not be obtained with only diet and exercise.

Although the belief that plastic surgery is only attainable to more affluent patients has long since been disproved, Dr. Butler says the closer examination provided by the report can help plastic surgeons in their outreach to new and potential patients by appealing to a more diverse base. The most recent ASPS data shows an increasing percentage of minority populations seeking aesthetic surgery, so marketing solely to a Caucasian patient base could pose missed opportunities.

"Our results dispel any myths suggesting that minority populations are less interested in plastic surgery or that they do not pursue plastic surgery due to affordability based on income status," he says. "The majority of our patients were found to make less than $125,000 per year."

When comparing ASPS patient data from 2016 to 2017, there was a significant increase in the number of ethnic patients seeking cosmetic surgery. There was only an 8 percent increase seen in the Caucasian population, while the Hispanic and African-American communities saw increases of 16 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Although an individual's decision to pursue cosmetic work is more complex than what a survey can ask, income and race made a statistically significant difference in how patients perceive attractiveness within society and their general perception of plastic surgery. Both factors play a significant role in the decision to pursue plastic surgery and which surgeon a patient chooses.

"Plastic surgeons encounter patients of varying ethnicity, gender, age, income and education level – all of whom have differing attitudes about cosmetic surgery and motivations for pursuit," The report says. "Understanding these differences will enable surgeons to provide a more individualized cosmetic experience."