What's the Median Income for a Fashion Model in the U.S.?


Take a wild guess: How much do you think fashion models make? It’s one of those professions that unless you know someone, or work in the biz, there’s not a lot of information out there to have a good view into. Judging by models’ perceived glamour and high society status, not to mention the cut-throat competition they deal with, you might think it’s a lot. I think I did. Which is why this line from a TNR review of the new book Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model struck me as amazing:

The median income across America in 2009 for a model was $27,330—income that includes no benefits.

The book is by Ashley Mears, a former fashion model and current Boston University sociologist. From the TNR review, written by Chloe Schama, here are some other insights into the strange world of fashion model economics:

  • The average magazine shoot pays about $100 a day. For appearing on the cover of Vogue a model gets an additional $300.
  • Payment for walking in a Fashion Week show in London is $500.
  • The super sought-after “high-end campaign”—for a fragrance or some other luxury good pays, on average, about $100,000.
  • The question of what makes a good model is prone to the greatest illogic and shrouded by the most impermeable mystery. A distinct “editorial” look is one that, in Mears’s words sits “on the border between beautiful and ugly.”


"The median income across America in 2009 for a model was $27,330—income that includes no benefits."

So you're saying that free cocaine isn't a benefit?

robyn ann goldstein

There are no free lunches here. Looks can be and are, in this instance, deceptive. What do I mean? I mean that a real empirical and real mathematics orientation produces refutations of any and every approach of an intellectual sort that asks for meaning and not for the Understanding which is the general characteristic of all scientific knowledge generally and of sociological knowledge in particular.

copyright Robyn Ann Goldstein. All rights reserverd. No two words of this text may be used without permission of the authors.


But how many days a year do they really work? If you average out their per hour rate, won't it be higher than average?

Enter your name...

The BLS reports a median (not mean) hourly wage of $15.83 for models in May 2010.

People who want a more complete description of the statistics should look at http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes419012.htm

NB that if the book is citing an earlier version of this stats set, that it excludes "self-employed" (rather than regular employee) models, which might not be entirely accurate for this particular industry.


My initial guess was a little high (38K) but not out of the ballpark. The thing to remember is that the supply for models is probably quite large so unless you become a household name/face, you can be easily replaced. Thus, the relatively low wages.


I'm a model working in Egypt and thank you this statistics made me feel better about my own income :)

Mike B

This sort of pay scale makes me wonder if people participating in this sort of tournament style industry are either doing it as a fun side hobby in conjunction with a day job, are incredibly ignorant, are incredibly desperate or both ignorant and desperate. I would hope it is the first one in that last, but I suspect it is the latter with many models working for low pay, but with the misguided hope that it is their ticket to making it big. It would be a real shame if they were also facing high opportunity costs for this decision, perhaps passing up education or better job opportunities to model or, in a worst case, damaging their health to maintain a desirable look and/or going into debt to finance their careers.
Reminds me of the original Freakomonics chapter on how most drug dealers make less than minimum wage :-(


Perhaps Marilyn Monroe had no choice if she wished to succeed in her day i.e., as in brains or beauty. I do. And it really will be my ways and the `high' way.


Is the data restricted to professionals -- those who have been in the business for several years, essentially full-time -- or does it include the part-timers -- 18-to-25 year-olds who do a few photo shoots as an irregular, part-time opportunity?

Mayuresh Gaikwad

Is that counting all models, including those who look at it as an avocation rather than a vocation and have another job that keeps the stove in their kitchen running?


You're ignoring the glamour involved - invitations to parties where they often pay no entry and spend little nothing on drinks, etc, etc so there are some benefits...

Anyway, it's not surprising modelling does not that pay incredibly well - it is an intensely competitive market where the barriers to entry are incredibly low - perceived good looks (not THAT uncommon).

In addition, many young women with photoshop and some good make up could fit the profile of a model, so why should walking up and down a catwalk and posing for some photos be rewarded handsomely unless you are particularly well-known or famous?

Ethan Long - Ethan5 Photography

Really? Is this a surprise to the readers? As an art photographer, I typically pay models a market rate of $50 to $75 an hour. All of the "full time" models I know must endure grueling travel schedules in order to keep working - including weekends. If they are lucky, they can save $100 a night by crashing at the photographer's house on the couch, staying with friends, or rolling the dice on couchsurfing.org for a free stay. Most assignments are not a full 8 hours or more, but typically 4 hours. Factoring travel days between cities, that generally offers them 2 to 3 working days per week of 4 hour days. Some of the more prominent models who are willing to do nudes can command $100 an hour, but that is also usually negotiated down toward $75 / $50 an hour (for confirmed shoots at a half-day or full-day). Fashion and editorials (i.e., non nudes) pay much less. Over 52 weeks per year, I'm not surprised at that average income. As of this writing, there are approximately 599,800 aspiring and professional "models" on networking sites like Modelmayhem and OneModelPlace.


caleb b

"they can save $100 a night by crashing at the photographer’s house on the couch"


So what you are saying is that the real benefits are for the photographer.

Ahmed Zghari

Evidently the mean average must be skewed by the few supermodels that earn mega-millions lottery amounts. But that is the typical measure for ordinary folk: the [mean] average salary is....and the [mean] average house price is....

Why not release these figures with a little more intel, preferably the standard deviation so that those who report on the figures can pick-up the relative amounts compared to, say, someone who works in a factory production line or Wal-Mart register?

Hmm, its not only beauty that is skin deep, statistics can be too.


Validation and status are two of the reasons people put up with it. I think they are more important factors than the lottery Mears mentions. Validation is probably the reason guys do porn too.


Not surprising - especially considering the number includes Everyone down to Kmart models.

The profession has many intangible benefits that makes a lot of people WANT to be in the profession. My husband works in sports - and there will always be a plethora of eager young bucks to replace him. The result? Unless you're at the very very top - you are overworked and underpaid.

Same same - people think you are automatically cool/beautiful/etc, high demand to be in the career plus low supply, and hard to make oneself irreplaceable.....

Makes sense.

Andreas Moser

Do you think I could be a model: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/style/ ?

caleb b

My best friend's sister is a model in L.A. When I say Model, I more or less mean that she is pretty and occasionally gets paid to pose for pictures. Her real income comes from dating wealthy older men. She'll tell you, it's a tough business to make it in and it only lasts for a short time. Although, she has gone to some awesome parties on several celeb’s yachts.