How Many California Massage Providers?

California does not require state licensing to practice massage therapy, but instead offers, via the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), a state-law authorized, voluntary certification that exempts the holders from local licensing laws. In return, certificants undergo education verification and extensive background checks. Because of this voluntary regulatory structure, there’s no centralized means of reliably estimating the number of massage providers in California. Recent estimates range between 30,000 to 100,000.

What we can do, however, is check the consistency of such estimates with other statistics. The 5 year business survival rate for massage providers is estimated to be between about 30% to 40% (Grant and Forman, p. 20). This compares with general small business survival rates of 42% to 51% from data given by Headd (2000). Factors differentiating the massage therapy survival rates from general small business rates can include: entering massage practice without being fully prepared to run a business, physical demands, emotional/interpersonal demands, and need to provide health care for self and family (a concern of entrepreneurs in general).

We can take five-year survival rates of a cohort entering to profession to be the 5th power of yearly survival rates. Thus 30%, 35%, and 40% five-year rates correspond to yearly survival rates of 78.6%, 81.1%, and 83.3%, respectively. The corresponding yearly loss rates are 21.4%, 18.9%, and 16.7%. Also, the respective two-year retention rates would be, 61.8%, 65.8%, and 69.4%, which might constitute a range of expected renewal rates for two-year provider certification.

If we assume a balance between annual graduation rates (G) of massage students and yearly loss from the profession (i.e., an equilibrium assumption), then we get that the number of providers in practice is:

NMT = G / L ,

where L is the annual loss rate expressed as a fraction. The loss rates above give (1/L) factors of 4.7, 5.3, and 6.0, respectively. Note also that G could include multiple sources of those entering practice in California, including net migration from other states.

At the 18 January CAMTC meeting, an estimate of annual graduates of 7000-8000 was informally stated. When I multiply 7500 by 5.3, I get an estimate of about 40,000 providers. The range in number of providers from the above is 33,000 (4.7×7000) to 48,000 (6.0×8000).

While nothing guarantees the truth or accuracy of the above, when we look at number of providers, graduation rates, and five-year business survival rates as being connected rather than just as separate numbers, we gain some insights we otherwise would miss.

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