Battling job barriers with a tube of lipstick

Aug 18, 2011

Generations of American women have turned to door-to-door sales when a male-dominated workforce and lack of education prevented them from entering the workforce. They were known as the Tupperware Lady or the Avon Lady as they showed off their newest products to the "Lady of the House."

New research out of the University of Cincinnati finds it's a strategy that is now bringing success to some in third world countries facing discrimination in the formal job market. Erynn Masi de Casanova, a UC assistant professor of sociology, will present her research on Aug. 21 at the 106th annual meeting of the in Las Vegas.

Casanova's research into women turning to direct sales in urban Ecuador resulted in her first book, "Making Up the Difference: Women, Beauty and Direct Selling in Ecuador," which was published by the University of Texas Press in June. Her field work included face-to-face interviews with 40 women that she conducted between 2007 and 2008, as well as general contacts with more than 100 women in urban Ecuador.

She explains that was not really a big complaint among the women because the labor market is so segregated by gender. "However, they said they felt that if they were over the age of 25, or if they were considered unattractive or had darker skin, they felt those factors kept them out of the formal labor market," says Casanova.

For women who had earned a college degree, professional jobs were hard to get once they became mothers, due to the time demands. All of them were looking for an alternative to the low-paying, exploitative jobs like cleaning houses or watching children, says Casanova.

Not working was not an option, says Casanova, who adds that some of the women held other side jobs in addition to direct selling, such as running a little restaurant or store in their home. The women are also the primary of the home and family.

In addition to adjustable hours outside the 9 to 5 , direct selling was also appealing because of the demand for the product, even in a developing country dominated by low-income families. "Everybody wants to look good. Everybody wants to smell good. Everybody wants to have nice skin. Those are demands that cut across all income levels," says Casanova. Plus, clients could pay for their products in installments, which was ideal for customers who could not afford to pay full price at a department store cosmetics counter.

"In a time of heightened unemployment in both rich and poor countries, and the expansion of informal work such as direct selling, the work strategies and experiences of these Ecuadorian women offer valuable insight into the challenges faced by women who want and need to work," says Casanova.

"I was also surprised that men took a very active role in direct selling, either alongside their wife or a female relative, or on their own. They saw opportunities in direct selling as well, either to purchase a product that they could not otherwise afford or to make a little extra money," says Casanova.

Explore further: Can new understanding avert tragedy?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

In job market, social contacts help men, not women

Aug 15, 2011

When it comes to finding a job, who you know is as important as what you know. Work experience generally helps people foster the kinds of personal contacts that can lead someone to new career opportunities, but a study from ...

Long work hours widen the gender gap

Aug 01, 2008

Working overtime has a disproportionate impact on women in dual-earner households, exacerbating gender inequality and supporting the "separate sphere" phenomenon in which men are the breadwinners while women tend to the home, ...

Recommended for you

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

2 hours ago

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

5 hours ago

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

17 hours ago

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

A service is soon to launch in the UK that will enable us to transfer money to other people using just their name and mobile number. Paym is being hailed as a revolution in banking because you can pay peopl ...