Men's Shopping Habits Are Worse For the Climate Than Women's

The things men buy result in 16% more greenhouse gas emissions.

man stands in back of truck

Getty Images/Tony Anderson

Men's consumption habits are worse for the planet than women's, according to a new study from Sweden. Researchers at Ecoloop, an environmental consulting firm, delved into the gender stereotypes that people often feel uncomfortable discussing and found that there are some significant quantifiable differences that policy-makers would do well to acknowledge. Their findings were published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

For the study, consumption-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were measured for the average individual, the average single male, and the average single woman. These were estimated to be 6.9, 10, and 8.5 tonnes per capita per year respectively, and more than half of those amounts (56-59%) were attributable to food, holidays, and furnishings. 

What's interesting is that single men and women spend similar amounts of money on consumer goods, but men's choices lead to 16% more GHG emissions than women's. That is because they opt to spend money on things like cars and driving, rather than taking public transportation or trains, as women are more inclined to do. More of men's money goes toward alcohol, tobacco, and eating out, whereas women are inclined to spend on clothes, home furnishings, and health-based purchases. 

Curiously, there were no major differences in the carbon footprints of men's and women's diets. While men tend to eat more meat, women make up for that in dairy products, which are also carbon-intensive foods.

Lead study author Annika Carlsson Kanyama tells Treehugger she wasn't surprised by the findings because previous research had revealed similar differences between single men and women regarding energy use, rather than emissions related to consumption.

When asked about why she thinks men and women travel so differently, Carlsson Kanyama explained, "It is a reflection of traditional gender roles where men use cars more often than women, who to a larger extent travel by public transport or walk. Take a look inside some cars next time you are traveling and see if there is a couple inside. In most cases the man drives."

In conversation with The Guardian, Kanyama had expressed surprise at the fact that more studies haven't been done on gender differences in environmental impact. "There are quite clear differences and they are not likely to go away in the near future."

The purpose of the study was to examine where individuals could make changes to their consumption habits in order to shrink their carbon footprints. The researchers looked for ways that would require minimal additional spending, so as to be more accessible to a greater number of people. They found that switching to plant-based diets and train-based holidays can reduce emissions by 40%. From the study:

"It is worth noting that the reduction potentials shown in this study do not require costly investments as is the case for buying an electric car or installing solar panels, which are other options for climate-aware households. Therefore, our examples are easy to comply with from an economic point of view."

Policy-makers would do well to pay attention to this if they want to get serious in the fight against global warming. Carlsson Kanyama said she hopes the study findings can "make people aware that their consumption matters for climate change and that there are affordable options for change on the market."

Her goal is also to provide information for policy-makers so as "not to be gender blind." For example, future transportation policy could target men more than women when it comes to reducing car use. Messaging could be directed toward men in such a way that encourages them to choose lower-carbon options or strives to change the gender-stereotypical imagery associated with certain activities.

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  1. Carlsson Kanyama, Annika, et al. "Shifting Expenditure on Food, Holidays, and Furnishings Could Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Almost 40%." Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2021, doi:10.1111/jiec.13176