Of hunters and gatherers

June 2012

Women can’t park, but they are better at cooking. Men don’t talk very much and don’t think as much about their health, but know what they’re talking about when it comes to finance. Gender stereotypes are probably as old as humanity itself. But what’s the truth behind certain stereotypes? A quick glance at our consumer tendencies shows that what makes men and women “tick” in this area really does still vary.

Take any Saturday morning in a pedestrian area: while “she” browses the shelves of a shoe shop, trying on a pair of pumps here and a pair of sandals there, “he” heads straight for the trainers, pulls them on and leaves the shop a few minutes later. Scientific investigations such as those by Daniel Kruger and Dreyson Byker have shown that this is not an isolated incident. In an article for the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology in 2009, both researchers from the University Michigan described the difference character traits of the two genders when it comes to shopping. According to them, women tend to have the skills which are useful for gathering, while men are defined by their hunting abilities. This affects their behavior when shopping. Statistics show that women simply enjoy shopping more than men, and so they spend more time finding their personal favorite items. While just 29% of women surveyed in 2010 found shopping annoying, the proportion of irritated men was twice as high at 60%. Just 40% of men said they found shopping fun. As a result, they are much less likely to wander around shopping centers, and also spend less money. In 2011, for example, men went clothes shopping an average of five times, buying an average of eleven items for a total of EUR 370. In contrast to this, women went shopping eleven times and bought an average of 22 items for a total of EUR 580. These are the findings of the GfK Textile Panel.

Having fun shopping: not for men

It seems as though our earliest influences have still not been overcome to this day: men are better hunters who focus on catching prey quickly, while women have been natural gathering creatures since the primeval times, which involves careful picking through nature, or nowadays the shops. It is not expected that the genders will align more closely – quite the opposite. While women have long ago stormed other traditional male strongholds such as the world of work and men now also take on “typically female” roles, the divide between men and women in enjoyment of shopping is getting ever wider.

Nutrition: women like it fresh, men like it meaty

Shopping as a necessary evil or an enjoyable pastime – the disagreement isn’t just on this point. Shopping lists also look different for the two genders. When it comes to groceries, women evidently place a higher value on their health. They buy more fruits and vegetables than animal products: while single men bought (and, presumably, then cooked and ate) an average of 40 kilograms of meat, sausages or poultry in 2011, women only bought 33 kilograms. On the other hand, they purchased a good ten kilograms more fruit and vegetables than men. When buying food, women don’t just look at the price – they also look at where it comes from, and are more likely to buy organic produce. Around 10% of the vegetables that women make into soups, bakes or salads are organic; for men this is just 6%. For meat, sausages and poultry, too, woman preferred to choose the organic option. But there is an exception: both genders buy the same amount of organic fruit.

Pleasure in the kitchen: men need to catch up

Maybe it’s just because men can bite straight into an organic apple without having to prepare it or do anything complicated to it. Despite a large number of male TV chefs who beam their best recipes and tricks into the living room every evening, the majority of men don’t really enjoy cooking. Only a third “really like” slaving over a hot stove, but, in keeping with the clichés, three quarters of women are enthusiastic chefs. They also love being healthy here: 82% put a high value on fresh, non-preserved produce. This is also important for 71% of men, but apart from freshness they want only one thing: taste. For more than half of all men (37% of women), food must melt in the mouth – regardless of whether what’s melting is healthy or not. It can definitely be something a little greasier. Almost half of all men are supporters of the taste hypothesis, and are happy to cram fat into their food “so that it tastes really good” (women: 34%). Men are also less concerned about their health when it comes to alcohol. In 2011, single men bought an average of 125 liters of beer each – almost three times as much as women. Sixty percent of men don’t even talk about good and bad foods any more: they think that too much fuss is made about healthy eating.

House and home: women love variety

It’s not just food where men are reluctant to branch out. They also have a more functional outlook on their own four walls. Women spend significantly more time making their home comfortable and fashionable, corresponding to the cliché that after a hard day’s work women as the gatherers of the modern age turn their attention to looking after the nest. Only 30% of men place a high value on being fashionable and always pay attention to the atmosphere. The remaining men are fans of the traditional style and don’t appreciate knick knacks. In contrast to this, almost half of women want their apartment to have a fashionable touch: 57% even say that they always pay attention to the atmosphere. Overall, women invest more in their home surroundings than men in a number of ways: they spend more time creating a positive atmosphere at home, decorate according to the time of year and find matching accessories and furniture.

Credit: women invest in furniture, men invest in technology

Even when they don’t have any money in their bank accounts, women don’t want to go without a comfortable home. Of the 21% who were paying back a loan in 2007, just under a quarter had bought new furniture. More common was paying back loans on cars (45%). Men who go to the bank for a loan also do it most commonly to buy their own car. Almost 60% took out a loan for a car last year, while only 13% went into debt for furniture. In second place for men on the list of reasons to apply for a loan was technology. A quarter of all those paying back a loan had it for computers and IT products. For women, this was only 16%. Instead, one in ten women had taken out a loan for new clothes or shoes, while only 4% of men had the same idea. Overall, both genders take out similar numbers of loans, but do it for different reasons. Debt is seen as a burden by 81% of women, and around 60% see credit as an absolute emergency solution. Just under two thirds of men shy away from debt, and slightly over half would only take out a loan in an emergency.

Gender stereotypes: the differences are here to stay

Many old stereotypes have almost disappeared completely from today’s reality. Women are no longer solely responsible for the household, more commonly have a job and are conquering management levels up to the chancellor’s office. Men no longer have sole responsibility for the finances, sometimes take paternity leave and are more interested in jobs that were previously typically female. Is the cliché of “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” really no longer part of this world? No – at least not in the consumer world. Here, the hunter and gatherer principle continues to apply, and each person does what he or she does best. This means that men prefer to gather their prey quickly, women take their time and are responsible for life at home. These ancient influences have endured for millions of years. In the future, it will probably continue to be “Women buy differently. So do men.”

Data sources: GfK Textilpanel, GfK Consumer Scan, European Consumer, TrendSensor Konsum.
If you have any queries about this article please contact Prof. Dr. Raimund Wildner.

For any further queries regarding GfK Compact, please contact Claudia Gaspar, e-mail: hello@nim.org.

June 2012