Edward J. Timmons
Director, Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation, West Virginia University
Senior Research Fellow, Archbridge Institute
Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation
I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the regulation of cosmetologists licensed by the Board for Barbers and Cosmetology in Virginia. I am an associate professor of economics and director of the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation at West Virginia University. I am also a senior research fellow with the Archbridge Institute. This comment is not submitted on behalf of any party or interest group.
My own research and the research of other scholars has shown that licensing restricts entry into professions and leads to higher prices for consumers. The main takeaways of my comments are the following:
Occupational licensing is not the only way to regulate a service, but it is the most onerous way.
The United Kingdom, Spain, and half of the members of the European Union do not require barbers or cosmetologists to obtain a license to work. Barbers and cosmetologists in the United Kingdom can obtain certification if they choose to do so—it is completely voluntary. Barber and cosmetology schools continue to exist, and the market functions well. There is no evidence that the more than 100 million consumers in the United Kingdom, Spain, and other European nations have been harmed as a result of a lack of occupational licensing.
There are several other services at least as important as barber and cosmetology services whose providers are not subject to licensing. Chefs and waitstaff at restaurants and auto mechanics are not required to be licensed. Chefs and waitstaff are regulated by random inspections and complete basic food safety training, and mechanics can obtain voluntary certification. All service providers are regulated by market discipline—poor-quality providers will not be in business for long. I have never asked to see my barber’s state-issued license. Instead, I ask my friends or go online to learn about provider reputation and quality.
A recent research paper more formally documents this behavior: on an online platform for home repair contracting services, consumers are much more interested in the online ratings of service providers than in state-issued licenses. Recent research also shows that licensing has no measurable impact on consumer perceptions of the quality of service.
If Virginia reduces cosmetology licensing requirements from 1,500 to 1,000 hours, it will be joining 15 other states that have made similar changes in the last 10 years. New York state, as an example, has required 1,000 hours for decades. There is no evidence of consumer harm resulting from this less burdensome entry requirement.
Today, it is hard to justify requiring licenses for barbers and cosmetologists in Virginia. The market has dramatically changed since many of these licensing laws were written. This proposed bill is an important first step toward recognizing this fact, but it is also time to more carefully reassess the costs of these regulations.
 Edward J. Timmons and Robert Thornton, “The Licensing of Barbers in the USA,” British Journal of Industrial Relations 48, no. 4 (2010): 740–57; US Department of the Treasury, Council of Economic Advisers, and US Department of Labor, Occupational Licensing: A Framework for Policymakers, July 2015.
 EU Single Market Regulated Professions Database, “Hairdresser / Barber / Wig-Makers,” European Commission, accessed April 28, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/regprof/index.cfm?action=profession&id_profession=12019.
 Chiara Farronato et al., “Consumer Protection in an Online World: An Analysis of Occupational Licensing” (NBER Working Paper No. 26601, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA, January 2020).
 Darwyyn Deyo, “Testing Licensing and Consumer Satisfaction for Beauty Services in the United States,” Kleiner Koumenta, eds. 2022. Grease or Grit? International Case Studies of Occupational Licensing and Its Effects on Efficiency and Quality. Kalamazoo, MI: W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.