Big surprise: Women like warmer temperatures but men control the thermostat

men in suits
Screen capture Oceans 11 men in suits

I have never understood suits. I look at that photo from the original Oceans 11 and wonder, are these guys nuts? Walking around outside in the Las Vegas sun in black suits and ties? But that’s what men did. That’s what many men still do at work; one recent study, The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing, actually found that wearing a suit makes people think differently. A study author tells the Atlantic that “Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world.”

Writing in MNN, wondering Why do our offices feel like walk-in coolers? I suggested that the thermostats were set to keep the guys in suits comfortable and the women covered. managers keep it cool to keep men in the required suits and ties comfy and to perhaps dampen the tendency of women to wear more revealing lighter clothing. “Sixty-eight degrees feels a lot different if you are wearing a wool turtleneck, slacks and boots versus a poplin sundress and sandals.”

© Mad men in the early days

However a new study concludes that it’s not just about clothing choices and male power tripping, but about biology. In Energy consumption in buildings and female thermal demand, authors Boris Kingma and Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt found that women have a metabolic rate that’s 20 to 32 percent lower than men. However the thermostat is set according to standards developed in the 1960s to accommodate Don Draper and other 40 year old men weighing about 154 pounds.
According to Laura Geggel in LiveScience (the study is paywalled):

One reason is that women are generally smaller than men and have a higher percentage of fat cells than their male counterparts, Kingma said. Fat cells produce less heat than muscle cells, which partially explains why women tend to have lower metabolic rates compared with men, he said.

The study suggests that women prefer a higher temperature than men, and are most comfortable at 25°C (77°F), while men prefer 22°C (71.5 F°). So when you have men in power suits with higher metabolisms combined with prudish office managers, you get freezing female workers.

There are a number of solutions to this; I think Christopher Mims' is a bit extreme. One might be to simply turn up the thermostat and tell men to ditch the suits. The study authors note that "As the built environment is focusing more on design of energy-efficient buildings (for example, near-zero-energy buildings), we argue that indoor climate standards should accurately represent the thermal demand of all occupants." In other words, making women comfortable actually reduces energy consumption. Seems like a win-win to me.

Tags: Air Conditioning | Work


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