In August 2016, Perception Institute set out to explore whether Americans generally show bias – implicit or explicit – toward natural hair worn by black women, and whether black women share this bias.  The potential for ‘hair bias’ to limit both perceptions of self and opportunities in the workplace has a distinct impact on black women. If bias linked to hair is present, what are the implications for how we perceive the natural hair, beauty, and professionalism of black women? Do black women who wear their hair naturally perceive social stigma as it relates to their own hair choices vis-a-vis dominant norms? And, amid a growing natural hair movement among black women, can the science offer any solutions that can help reduce bias and promote positive perceptions of natural hair both for women themselves and among others who see them?

Interested in the details of the data? Download the Good Hair Study – Appendix

Key Findings

Using the “Good Hair” Survey, we measured black and white women’s explicit ratings of a range of hairstyles. We found:

  • On average, white women show explicit bias toward black women’s textured hair. They rate it as less beautiful, less sexy/attractive, and less professional than smooth hair.
  • Black women in the natural hair community have significantly more positive attitudes toward textured hair than other women, including black women in the national sample.
  • Millennial naturalistas have more positive attitudes toward textured hair than all other women.
  • Black women perceive a level of social stigma against textured hair, and this perception is substantiated by white women’s devaluation of natural hairstyles.

The “Good Hair” Survey also explored the concerns, social pressures and experiences women have related to their own hair. We found:

  • Almost all women worry about their hair to some extent; black women experience high levels of anxiety more than white women.
  • One in three black women report that their hair is the reason they haven’t exercised, compared to one in ten white women.
  •  One in five black women feel social pressure to straighten their hair for work — twice as many as white women.
  • Black women are more likely to report spending more time on their hair than white women.
  • Black women are more likely to report having professional styling appointments more often than white women.
  • Black women are more likely to report spending more money on products for their hair than white women.
  • One in four black women have difficulty finding products for their hair—more than half have not been able to find products for their hair.

The Hair IAT was used to assess implicit bias toward black women’s textured hair. A national sample of men and women, and a sample of women from an online natural hair community, completed the Hair IAT.  The results of the Hair IAT show:

  • The majority of participants, regardless of race, show implicit bias against black women’s textured hair.
  • Black women who are part of an online natural hair community are more likely to show a preference for black women’s textured hair.
  • White women in the natural hair community are three times more likely to be neutral than white women in the national sample, though the majority still show preference for smooth hair.

Our findings provide an important backdrop to recent events related to natural hair — from legal cases on hair professionalism to appropriateness in school — and have direct implications for future research and conversations related to black women’s experiences.  This study is the first to use the Hair IAT and to conduct a national study of women’s anxiety linked to hair.  The findings, while preliminary, present a robust set of data and Perception Institute is excited to invest further and grow this body of research.