Real-Life Economic Indicators: Divorce, Plastic Surgery

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- The Conference Board releases its bone-dry Leading Economic Index report of global indicators every month, factoring in the level of the S&P 500, the inflation-adjusted measure of M2 money supply, the interest rate -- yawn.

With respect to leading economists, there are more interesting, and sometimes more telling, indicators. Besides, you'll really know the economy is turning around when you see an uptick in the number of Americans who are leaving their spouses, having babies, popping fewer anti-anxiety pills and buying new teeth so they can eat more hotcakes. To wit:

The pro-cyclic vanity indicator: Economic belt-tightening coincides with a drop in skin tightening, says the Millennium Research Group, a Toronto-based firm that studies the medical industry. So-called "body contouring procedures" are heavily affected by economic factors, as are dental implant procedures, which are generally not covered by insurance claims. (Breast implant procedures and facelifts are only moderately affected by the economy, the firm reports.)

According to MRG, the number of "body contouring procedures" in the U.S. has decreased by 5.7% since 2008. The rate of dental implant (artificial tooth and root replacement) was growing about 10% annually until the past couple of years when it dropped to 8% in 2008 and, so far, less than 1% in 2009. Patients are opting instead for bridges, which are significantly cheaper. Dental implant manufacturers have responded by dropping the price of dental implants, from an average of $274 in 2008 to $271 this year.

Lisa Shantz, an analyst at MRG, says it's fair to predict economic growth based on an increase in tummy tucks, tooth replacements and related medical equipment purchases.

"A lot of these procedures are tied to consumer confidence," Shantz says. "If they're more confident in the economy, they might be more likely to undergo these procedures because they can see an end to it." (Based on its own metrics, the firm is expecting an economic recovery to begin in early 2010.)