The higher the heel, the closer to the big city? That’s the question a new study is raising which correlates heel height preferences to the median income in a given location.
The study, conducted by the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon, tracked 16,236 shoe purchases by 2,007 women across 180-plus U.S. cities over a five-year period. The results showed that women’s heel height changed in accordance with the subjects’ surroundings. If she relocated to a city whose median income was marginally or significantly higher than earnings in their original hometown, heel height increased, while the same was true in reverse for women who moved to locations with a median income lower than the subjects’ previous residence. In the latter case, women generally kept the preferences of their previous location, choosing not to alter their heels.
“Studying heel height may seem like an unusual way to understand social influence, but it’s actually a perfect setting,” said Jeff Galak, associate professor of marketing at the Tepper School. “Fashion choices are highly visible decisions that are influenced by social norms and pressures. Shoes, and defacto heel height, are one such purchase where the decision and motivations are both highly visible and easily quantifiable.”
For instance, women who moved from Mobile, Ala. to New York City (where the median income is $45,000 higher) saw their heel height increase by 1.3 inches on average, up to 2.3 inches compared to just 1 inch in Mobile. The same was true of women who moved from Philadelphia to San Jose, Calif. – heel height increased 1.5 inches on average, from just 0.5 inches in Philadelphia to 2 inches in San Jose. On the other hand, women who moved from New Haven, Conn. to Minneapolis (where median income is $25,000 lower) purchased heels that were on average 0.5 inches lower than what they bought in New Haven.
“There is, of course, still more work to be done to understand how people, in general, balance the complexity of maintaining their own sense of individuality while trying to be part of a larger group,” Galak said, noting Census figures that reveal that 7 million-plus Americans relocate across state lines annually. “For instance, do people conform to social norms for more private purchases like furniture, movies and even art? Maybe we will learn that when their purchases are not on public display, people are willing to keep true to their own identities and are less willing to conform to the group.”