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Mary Lou Roberts, Boston University

The multiple, and often conflicting, roles of women today pose significant challenges for
marketers and researchers, This paper discusses actual and anticipated changes in women's
consumer behavior on the basis of issues raised by studies of women's roles in non-marketing
disciplines. Implications for research, marketing strategy, and public policy are discussed.
Change brought about by the continuing evolution in women's roles have affected, and will
continue to affect, all aspects of our society. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the actual
and anticipated effects of these changing roles on women's consumer behavior. The issues
treated herein are those raised by the other five participants in this session. Underlying the multi-
disciplinary approach taken in this session is a strong belief that we can better understand and
anticipate the effects of women's changing roles on consumer behavior if we make use of
knowledge available in the behavioral sciences and economics.
As an organizing framework, I will first treat issues directly observable in current demographic
trends and then treat some interpersonal issues.
Four major factors which are evident in demographic data -delayed age of marriage, the
decreasing fertility rate, women's employment, and women-headed families - have potential for
causing important changes in women's consumer behavior. These factors have both individual
and interactive effects.
One implication of this phenomenon is that women (and men, too) are spending more post-
school years as single adults than have past generations. As young adult singles they may
continue to live with their parents, live alone, live with one or more persons of the same (or with
increasing frequency, opposite) gender, or live under the arrangement euphemistically described
as co-habitation. Whichever living arrangement, or combination thereof, is chosen, delaying
marriage implies a longer period of independence for the young adult.
The individuals who have experienced this protracted period of social and financial
independence will bring to their eventual marriages a broad array of consumer skills. These
consumer skills will be the result of both their own experience and of exposure to the life styles
of other young adults including roommates, co-workers, and friends. Singlehood tends to force
the acquisition of non-traditional consumer skills for both genders. For instance, the woman is
likely to have purchased and maintained one or more cars and the man is likely to have prepared
meals, maintained an apartment, and done the shopping associated with the performance of
traditionally female tasks.
Upon marriage, these persons are less likely to model cheer consumption patterns and decision-
making processes upon the, probably traditional, patterns of their parents than are couples who
lack this lengthy exposure to diverse and, often non-traditional, life styles prior to marriage. Both
the nature of consumption-related decisions and the processes by which they are made will be
affected. Kohen's statement that "young women will take part in these negotiations with a greater
sense of personal identity'' is likely to apply in consumer decision-making as well as in family
formation decisions. This sense of identity, reinforced by dual incomes, is likely to result in more
autonomous decision-making by these couples.
Extensive pre-marital experience as single consumers may, over time, result in a more flexible
approach to the division of household and other consumption-related tasks. Change is unlikely to
be rapid, however. The most non-traditional attitudes and behavior should be exhibited by
cohabiting couples, since they have chosen a relationship which is not sanctioned by a large
proportion of our society. Still, a study of the division of household labor which included
cohabiting couples (Stafford, Beckman and Dibona 1977) found that even these couples were
dividing tasks in the traditional, gender-linked manner. Even so, some change is becoming
apparent. In earlier research dealing with meal preparation by husbands, Wortzel and I
speculated that couples today seem increasingly inclined to perform at least the more creative
tasks on the basis of personal preference as opposed to traditional gender roles (Robert and
Wortzel 1979a). This is likely to become increasingly true as more young persons experience
protracted periods of singlehood. While this is promising from the viewpoint of the demands on
time of the working woman - and admittedly an over-optimistic one from the viewpoint of
current time use research - it is a perplexing one for marketers. It has been difficult enough to
select target segments, determine appeals, and accurately portray women as their roles have
multiplied. Men's assumption of multiple, non-traditional roles will further complicate the
situation. The best approach to take will be a cautious, research-based one, since change is not
likely to occur simultaneously either across product categories or across market segments.
Since higher education is related to delayed marriage, another implication is that both partners
will bring increased financial resources into the initial years of marriage. This will clearly allow
for a more rapid accumulation of a stock of high-quality durable goods as well as for continued
high expenditures on personal consumption goods, services, travel, and leisure pursuits.
While the social implications of women's ability to control their fertility cannot easily be
overstated, there are also important implications for consumer behavior.
One might start with the proposition that for the majority of American families having a child is
now a conscious decision reached jointly by husband and wife. In her introduction to a special
issue of the Psychology of Women Quarterly which deals with determinants of fertility, Russo
states that "there is overwhelming scientific evidence that we value what we perceive ourselves
to have freely chosen" (Russo 1979, p. 12). Therefore both necessity born of women's
employment and positive attitudes toward nurturing of children should lead to greater male
involvement in child rearing. Marketers should question whether fathers react similarly to
mothers with respect to attributes of child care and entertainment products. Will they be more,
less, or equally concerned about convenience in use, health and safety aspects, and educational
benefits of products, for instance?
It seems clear that promotional activities-for child-related products should reflect increasing
male involvement. Advertising themes, media selection and role portrayals may all be affected.
Current television advertising for a new brand of disposable diapers can be cited as an example
of portraying equal involvement of both parents in infant care.
The high educational level of these parents is likely to increase the size of the market segment
which is extremely critical and demanding with regard to child-related products. Their
expectations for quality in all types of products will be high. They will expect toys to provide
developmental and learning experiences as well as entertainment. The increased financial
resources they have accumulated as a result of delayed marriage, coupled with few children as a
result of decreased family size, will allow sizeable expenditures on each child. The impact of
large numbers of first births as well as many single-child households will increase the economic
impact of this "echo baby boom" since higher per-capita expenditures are typical for first-born
children (Cardozo and Haefner 1969).
Since many women may be delaying the birth of the first child until careers are well established,
most of them are likely to return to the labor force very quickly, if they leave it at all. The
resulting segment of well-educated and affluent two-worker families may choose to spend as
little time as possible on activities that represent merely "custodial care" of the home or the
children. Instead, they will try to devote as much time as possible to activities that provide
rewarding family interaction. Products and services which promote interaction between parents
and children that is both enjoyable and intellectually stimulating should be especially attractive.
In examining the effects of women's employment, Kohen points out that, while leisure is
important to the working woman, it is frequently less fulfilling of them than is their work. In
terms of their basic life priorities, this seems quite reasonable. Yet, it also seems reasonable to
expect that changes in women's role-related attitudes will be reflected in their leisure pursuits.
There is limited support in the literature for this hypothesis (Gentry and Doering undated). There
is also the suggestion that women, like men, consider work and leisure to be interrelated and that
women, even more than man, enjoy competitive leisure pursuits (Hawes, Blackwell and Talarzyk
In view of the limited amount of research available, some research questions seem to be in order.
It seems clear that the scarce leisure time of the working woman should be highly valued. How
does she approach the use of that leisure time? Does she see it as an end in itself or as an integral
part of a well-rounded life, i.e., as a way of keeping herself mentally and physically fit to cope
with her work and personal activities? If she is married, does she reserve her leisure time for
family activities or does she feel that she is entitled to some "time of her own?"
The theme of lack of time for the working woman to call her own recurs frequently in the more
popular current literature on women's issues (see Bird 1974, for example). It seems that a
majority of working wives correctly perceive themselves to be not only contributing to
household income but also spending more tine on household and child care than do other
members of the family. They may, therefore, be very open to appeals related to doing something,
either active or passive, for their own personal benefit and enjoyment.
In terms of the household consumer behavior that results from women's employment, marketers
have more experience, but are not really much closer to developing useful generalizations. The
easy hypotheses have tended not to be confirmed by empirical data. Kahne points out that,
although economists have hypothesized that purchase patterns for durable goods will be affected
by women's employment, Strober and Weinburg (1977, 1980) have not been able to support this
hypothesis with empirical data. The seemingly reasonable hypothesis that working women will
tend to rely more on convenience foods than non-working women has fared similarly (Anderson
1971, Anderson 1972), although there is contradictory evidence (Editor and Publisher, 1972).
Pointing out that sales of one convenience food, frozen vegetables, have actually declined in
recent years, Wells sounds a warning that is widely applicable across product categories when he
says, "Remember that frozen vegetables represent only one of a number of acceptable ways
(emphasis mine) to shorten meal preparation time. The link between the desire to make meal
preparation easier and the use of frozen vegetables is neither necessary nor direct (Marketing
News 1980). Understanding the various possible approaches to task performance (see Roberts
and Wortzel 1979b for an example), will shed considerable light on product and brand choice
behavior. Again, a careful research-based approach is necessary, because there is no reason to
believe that approaches to task performance will be consistent either across tacks within the same
household or across households.
We should not overlook the fact that women's employment is creating for them another role --
customer for business goods and services. There is an easily observable tendency for marketers
to fall back on the prevailing mythology about sex differences when dealing with women in
business decision-making roles. Hesselbart sounds an important warning when she notes that
"women and men in similar jobs have similar values and personalities." We should therefore not
expect to find decision criteria and processes differing a great deal between male and female
managers. Even in a situation where women do have a special set of problems (business travel is
a good example), proprietary research has found no major difference in decision criteria between
men and women. This type of woman, however, does appear to be very easily offended by two
extremes of marketing behavior. At one extreme is blatant sexuality, usually in promotion, which
is counter to her own role-appropriate behavior. At the other extreme is anything which bespeaks
a patronizing attitude toward "the little woman." Actually, it may be that marketers of business
goods and services have an easier basic task where women are concerned than do marketers of
consumer goods and services; they should simply treat every role incumbent in the same manner.
Both Elkstrom and Kahne point out that single women are disproportionately represented in the
labor force and Kohen adds that one out of every six families is headed by a woman. Given
current rates of divorce and of chosen singlehood, these trends seems likely to continue.
Expected differences in consumer behavior suggest that we should be looking at three different
groups of currently single women:
Single women without families who are less than 55 years old (3 million in 1978).
Single women without families who are 55 years or older (7.3 million in 1978).
Single women who are family heads (5 million in 1978) (U.S. Department of Commerce 1978).
From 1970 to 1978, the moot rapidly growing group of never-married women was the 25-34 age
range (14% of all never-married women). Age alone makes them a prime market for consumer
goods, as does the fact that they are the best-educated of the women in this age bracket. In spite
of the size of this market, only media catering to the young, single woman have published
information which examines it specifically. It is clear that these women have a great deal of
buying power, but how are they spending it? Are they buying condominiums or making other
types of investments? Do they spend heavily on non-durable goods including clothing and
personal care items? Are they especially heavy consumers of travel and entertainment services?
The answer to all of these questions is undoubtedly "yes" but we need to understand the
budgetary allocations of this segment. We also need to understand their shopping attitudes and
habits. Are they part of the shrinking group of consumers who regard shopping as a pleasurable
activity, perhaps because their free time is not constrained by family responsibilities? Are their
shopping attitudes product specific - i.e. they like to shop for clothing and other personal items
but dislike to shop for food? Do they mix shopping and entertainment? The basic hypothesis
would be that the consumption patterns of this segment differ as a result of their relatively high
level of "truly discretionary" income and that their shopping attitudes and behavior also differ
from those of other women as a result of their life styles.
The segment of women living alone aged 55 and older presents a very different picture. They are
less well educated and have lower incomes than other groups of employed women. In addition,
women aged 55 to 64 are less likely to be employed than are any other group under age 65,
although it is uncertain whether or not this is true for the single women in this age group.
Because elderly consumers make up a large portion of the market for many goods and services,
there are several studies available. However, they tend not to cross-classify their data so that
female responses can be distinguished from those of male respondents. One study (Martin 1976)
studied fashion shopping behavior among young, middle-aged and elderly women. He found
numerous differences between the three age groups with elderly women using more information
from both media and sales clerks, shopping fewer stores, and shopping in specialty boutiques
less frequently than either of the other two groups. Although there was little inter-group
difference, elderly women perceived themselves as being fashion conscious and said they
enjoyed shopping. While it is true that one might expect fashion-related behavior to differ widely
between generations, different shopping patterns as well as the different information processing
patterns discussed by Phillips and Sternthal (1977) suggest that different marketing strategies
would be appropriate for the elderly female consumer. Single elderly women, an apparently
unstudied group, should continue to increase in importance as a market segment, since woman's
life expectancy continues to exceed a man's by almost eight years and the differential is predicted
to increase. (U.S. Department of Commerce 1978, p. 11).
The final group of single woman is those who are family heads. As Kahne points out, the vast
majority of these families are composed of children, a few include a male who is not defined as
the household head, and still others are composed of other adult family members. While there are
other similarities, the single meet unifying aspect of these families is their low income level. It is
not surprising that Kohen's research has found them to be an especially good market for used
The low level of discretionary income does not make this a particularly appealing market target
for most goods. The exception is products specifically designed to stretch the consumer's dollar,
such as generic products in the supermarket. Even here, we may be missing out, because a recent
study of the market for generics cites greater usage by the upscale customer (Murphy and
Laczniak 1979). This highlights the need for consumer information programs which will
effectively reach this and other low-income segments. While this is a difficult task, it is one that
deserves the attention of both marketers and researchers.
There is, however, another aspect of women-headed families that may prove to be of even
greater long-run significance to consumer behavior. It is the consumer socialization of children
from woman-headed households. If the alarming projection quoted by Kohen that 40% of all
children will spend at least a portion of their formative years in such a household turns out to be
true, we may see differences in socialization practices and the resulting behavior of adolescents
and young adults,
It is clear that a great deal of learning about sex-role-appropriate behavior occurs in early
childhood. However, the literature on single-parent families headed by women (see Herzog and
Sudia 1973 for a literature review) indicates that, while absence of the father tends to delay this
learning, other role models are used so that by young adulthood there is no discernable difference
in internalization of sex roles between children from two-parent and single-parent families. It is
not absence of the father per se that causes developmental and social problems in the children of
single-parent families. Rather, it is the stress and fatigue engendered by the long hours, lack of
dependable child care, and the low salaries of most of these women that lead to problems in the
The research to date does not seem to provide strong evidence to suggest that children from
woman-heeded families will be more sex-role egalitarian than children from two-parent families.
It is more important to note that sex role stereotyping is less prevalent among children of all
working mothers (Del Boca and Ashmore 1980), so maternal employment appears to be the key
Kohen's finding that divorced mothers expect a more secure and responsible role from their
children does suggest differences in consumption-related behavior in single-parent families with
older children and teenagers. These children may shop for themselves and do routine shopping
for the family at an earlier age. Time pressure in all families with a working mother, and
especially in those with a single parent, suggests that more research attention should be given to
assumption of household tasks and to shopping behavior by older children and teenagers.
When considering the effect of changing sex roles on consumer behavior, one of the first
concerns of marketers is changing patterns of household task performance. This concern seems
to be based on the premise, which to the best of my knowledge has yet to be empirically tested,
that persons who are involved in the performance of household tasks will be more influential in
product and brand choice for task-related products.
There is ample evidence that both men and women hold increasingly egalitarian attitudes
towards women's roles, and as a result, feel that household tasks should be shared.
Unfortunately, egalitarian attitudes have not been readily translated into wholesale male
assumption of household tasks (Lopata et al. 1980, p. 128). However, there is limited evidence
that males are performing some traditionally female tasks (Roberts and Wortzel 1979a). When
one of these tasks is grocery shopping, the results, in terms of brand choice, may be quite
different than if the wife had done the shopping herself (Newsweek 1979, Progressive Grocer
1980). With the dramatic increase in two-wage-earner families in recent years, the topic of task
sharing has relevance for marketers of a wide range of goods and services.
Various theories have been advanced to explain male-female roles in household decision
making. Chief among them are the relative power, cultural role expectations, relative investment
(Davis 1976) and time-available (Stafford and Dibona 1977) hypotheses. While all provide
useful insights, none appears to provide consistent explanatory power with respect to household
task sharing (See Wortzel and Roberts forthcoming for an extensive review of the literature on
household task sharing).
Both observation and descriptive writing on the subject of household task sharing suggest that
there are a variety of processes used in arriving at a, hopefully satisfactory, allocation of
household tasks. They range from the marital contract which may specify duties in great detail,
through recommended processes for arriving at allocations (see Seiden 1980, for an example) to
the ad hoc arrangements which probably exist in the majority of households. The strategies used
to allocate household tasks should provide insight into a broad range of family decision-making
processes and are therefore well worth study.
At the risk of oversimplifying a complex situation, I would like to propose a paradigm which
may be useful in studying household task allocation (Figure 1).
As traditional roles become blurred, attitudes - whether actually positive toward task
performance or just less negative than the partner's - are likely to become increasingly important.
At the same time, perfectionist standards toward housework may be less important to women,
especially working women, who have other inputs to their evaluation of their own self-worth. It
is quite possible that a husband may have higher standards than his wife with regard to one or
more specific task outcomes. This paradigm, then, applies separately to husband and wife and
also to children old enough to assume general household tasks. Task allocation will be the result
of the mix of attitudes and standards present within the family.
Other things equal, a positive attitude coupled with high standards should predict that the
individual will perform the task. If two individuals in the family fall into this cell, they may share
the task, perhaps on a time-available basis. The person(s) who perform(s) this task may actually
prefer the type of product that requires more effort (materials to cook or bake 'from scratch' or
non self-polishing floor wax, for example). On the other hand a person with a negative attitude
but high standard, if (s)he must perform the task, would look for a product which achieves good
results with minimal effort. The individual who falls into the positive attitude/low standard cell
may be relatively indifferent to the attributes of the product used. The cell which couples
negative attitudes with low standards, especially if it is prevalent throughout the family, suggests
that the task may not be performed at all. There are two key warnings for marketers: not to
assume that standards are uniformly high across the population and not to assume that they are
Hesselbart's distinction between expressive and instrumental tasks is also worth noting. Research
has found that child cars is the task husbands are most likely to share (Lopata 1971). Recent
interest has centered on other activities such as cooking, which can also be expressive in nature.
If husbands are most willing to share tasks which have expressive aspects and if women are less
eager to find recognition or self-fulfillment tasks that are essentially instrumental, it suggests a
more pragmatic approach to the promotion of products used in routine tasks.
It is also worth returning briefly to the problem of power versus time in the two-wage-earner
household. If power is conferred by contribution to the family's income, then working women
should indeed have more power in family decision-making. It is easy to hypothesize that women
will exercise this power with the result being more joint decision-making. However, we must
realize that time spent in income-producing activities is, for most women as well as men, time
not spent at home. The trade-off between more power and less time may result in less
assumption or sharing of previously male-dominated decisions than one would at first suspect. In
fact, one study found more male participation in shopping and financial decisions that had
previously been handled solely by wives (Pralle 1980).
Investigating how couples handle two incomes can also give useful insights into more specific
consumption decisions. A study of more than 15,000 couples conducted by Family Circle
magazine in 1976 and 1977 and quoted by Bird (1979, pp. 155-164) identifies four types of
couples based on the manner in which they handle the wife's income:
-- Pin money couples in which the wife's income is hers to save or spend as she chooses
-- Earmarker couples who designate the wife's income for a specific purpose (children's college
expenses, down payment on a home, etc.)
-- Pooler couples who combine both incomes, usually in a joint checking account, and spend it
without regard to its source
--Bargainer couples who treat income as the property of the person who earns it and negotiate the
division of household expenses.
Preferred decision-making strategies are implicit in these categorizations. In addition, the
freedom, or lack thereof, which the wife has in spending "her" money is likely to affect both
product and brand choice behavior.
One large segment of women has been almost entirely overlooked in our discussion thus far.
That segment is the working class woman. This is not surprising. Ekstrom notes that there has
been little research on employment decisions of the working class woman. This is true of
research on working class woman in general with the classic studies (Rainwater 1959,
Komarovsky 1962) predating the women's movement and therefore having limited applicability
today. Major studies through 1974 are listed in an annotated bibliography (Samuels 1975), and a
journalistic-type study which contains useful insights was published in 1977 (Rowe 1977).
However, research which explicitly deals with the consumer behavior of working-class women is
virtually non-existent. The most recent study was published in 1973 (Social Research Inc. 1973).
Some of the salient findings about working-class women are:
* Working-class women have been slower than middle-class women in breaking with traditional
roles, and have tended to react negatively toward changes which appear to threaten established
* For ethnic working-class women, especially, religious institutions tend to reinforce traditional
* The working-class woman tends to be part of a tightly-knit social group composed primarily of
female kin.
* Although the necessity of working has expanded the social horizons of many working-class
women, the traditional female jobs which most of them hold are not intrinsically rewarding.
* These expanded horizons are reflected in the decreasing propensity of working-class women to
define family responsibilities, especially child care, as the central focus of their lives. (Peters and
Samuels 1976).
* Working class husbands and wives tend to adhere to traditional household roles and to engage
in sex-segregated leisure activities, even if wives work.
* Wives' employment is often viewed as threatening by the working class husband whose ability
to provide for the family is often the major source of his sense of self-worth (Samuels 1975).
* While feelings of lack of self-worth and competency in dealing with the world outside the
home have decreased among working-class women, they have decreased more slowly than have
the same feelings among middle-class women. The result is an increasing disparity in feelings of
self worth and self-confidence between the two social class groupings.
* Working-class women are more likely than their middle-class counterparts to feel that their
adult life is better than their childhood. Since part of the perceived improvement is due to
acquisition of desired material goods, working-class women are more positive toward business in
general and specific products, and toward the media in general and advertising in particular, than
are middle-class women. (Social Research, Inc. 1973).
Taken together, these points emphasize the fact that most of our data about women come from
middle-class respondents and is based on middle-class values. Working-class women make up an
important market segment for many products and brands. In addition, they may react to some
types of advertising appeals very differently from middle-class women (Johnson and Satow
1978). If we could believe that they are soon likely to adopt middle-class attitudes, values and
patterns of behavior, their absence from most consumer behavior studies would not be an
important omission. However, the S.R.I. study (1973) also indicates that working-class emphasis
on upward mobility into the middle class appears for many to be giving way to an emphasis on
achieving desired goals within the working-class milieu. The attention of researchers to the
working-class market is therefore important and overdue.
For Research
The opportunities for research that are inherent in issues surrounding women's changing roles are
so numerous that I shall make no attempt to enumerate them. However, there are some general
issues that should be considered. One of these is indiscriminate borrowing of concepts from
other disciplines. The patterns of work experience described by Ekstrom are a good example of
potential use and misuse. These patterns - career to homemaking, intermittent labor force
participation, double-track women, and work-committed women - would seem intuitively to
have potential in studies of family financial decisions. However, I see no reason to believe that
they would be useful predictors of product or brand choice decisions.
A related problem is indiscriminate borrowing of methodology. Several years ago Green and
Cunningham (1975) used Arnott's Feminism scale in a study of husband-wife decision-making
and, citing this work, marketing researchers have continued to use it. This scale, which is about
ten years old, is composed of ten attitudinal statements. Although the scale appears reliable,
attitudes of the general populace continue to shift toward the "liberated" end of the scale, with
the result being that the scale does not discriminate well. Since we know that role-related
behaviors are not changing as rapidly as are related attitudes, role-orientation scales which have
behavioral components should provide more ability to discriminate.
Another possibility is that we should move away from the idea than general role orientations will
be good predictors of consumer behavior. Perhaps the concept of androgyny, infrequently used
in marketing research to date, will be more useful.
The best solution of all, however, may be to focus on task and product-specific attitudes. They
should not only be more powerful predictors of related behavior but will also enable us to avoid
the troublesome problems of defining concepts such as "traditional" and "contemporary." Asking
parallel questions of all family members will help us to understand the real nature of decision
making within the family group.
And finally, all research, whether basic or applied, should recognize the inherent bias toward the
middle class view of the world that is apparent in most of our work. Removing this bias will help
us to understand the diversity that exists among American women today.
For Marketing
Those who market goods and services to women will be well advised to look beyond the
"outputs" of consumer decision-making -- product and brand choice -- and to investigate in depth
the processes by which those final decisions are made. The life style choices available to women
today are many and varied. Products and services are sought both to implement these life style
choices and to reflect them. Understanding how products and services fit into chosen life styles is
a necessity if they are to be marketed effectively.
On the basis of research previously cited, it seems clear that we should expect to find few major
differences in the purchase of consumer durable goods between families with working and non-
working wives. Differences, however, may exist in buying behavior relative to frequently
purchased goods and services, which have received less research attention to date. We should
look for variations in product quality expected or preferred, in shopping patterns including outlet
choices and timing of purchases, and in attitudes and family practices with regard to shopping.
In developing, as well as marketing, products and services we should look at the incompatible
demands which often result from women's multiple roles. Any working wife or mother could
assure us that these role-incompatible demands are legion. Take, for example, services of all
kinds. Every provider of services -- from the washer repairman to the orthodontist -- prefers to
work from nine to five on weekdays. Obtaining services at these times is highly incompatible
with the demands of most employers. Offering services at times and places convenient to the
consumer could be a major coup. The same type of reasoning can be applied to the development
and distribution of products which ease the time pressure brought about by the demands of
multiple roles.
As marketers we should also look more clearly at the budgetary allocations and decision-making
process of non-traditional families, especially the dual-income and the woman-headed family,
two rapidly-growing groups. In this respect, we should also carefully evaluate the composition of
households in the U.S. over the coming years. The number of households is expected to increase
rapidly. Will the increase come primarily from affluent singles a dual-income families or will a
large part of it be lass-than-affluent woman-headed households? The demand for all types of
goods and services, including consumer durables, will be greatly affected by the composition of
In effect, marketers should not look for easy answers to marketing strategy problems based on
whether women work or not. The diversity of working, as well as non-working, women is too
great for generalizations that will prove useful across broad groups of people and of products.
Approaches centered around life styles, decision processes and task orientations should replace a
simple working/non-working dichotomy.
For Public Policy
The papers in this session have also raised numerous issues which have public policy
implications. Neither time nor the objectives of this session allows for a full discussion of these
important issues, many of which relate to the job satisfaction and income-producing ability of
women. Only a few can be highlighted here.
Ekstrom noted that numerous women lack the necessary skills to obtain employment that pays
well enough to compensate for their absence from the home. Women in families where husbands
or other adults are present may be able to generate worthwhile income by adjusting hours so that
the husband or other adult can assume child care and other household tasks. Such arrangements
can be economically and personally viable, but the behavioral science literature frequently refers
to the strains on the marital relationship caused by such arrangements. The group affected most
by lack of skills and low income is single mothers. If businesses can upgrade the skills of these
women and assist them in finding satisfactory, low-cost child care, they will increase the level of
effective demand emanating from a significant segment of our population. In this context,
businesspeople may wish to consider the implications of Kahne's statement that consumer needs
can be translated into effective demand either through spending of personal income or through
social programs.
The possibility of an increasing gap between the incomes of one- and two-wage earner families
is interesting, although its implications are less clear. It does seem worthy of continuing
attention, however, both from the standpoint of marketing and of employee relations and for its
potential in generating public policy issues.
It seems that, both as marketers and as researchers, we have overcome the notion that all woman
are or should be homemakers, even though some of the mythology concerning sex differences
still pervades many of our activities. We have also come a long way toward understanding that
working women do not make up a single, homogenous group, nor are all non-working women
alike. It is to be hoped that this session has taken us one step further toward a genuine
understanding of women's multiple roles. That step would be the realization that, while change in
women's role-related attitudes and behavior is pervasive, it is not occurring with equal speed on
all the same dimensions throughout our society.
Only when we, as marketers and researchers, recognize the diversity that exists among women
and cheer families in the way they interpret their work, family, and consumer roles will we be
able to effectively cope with the changes that are occurring.
[Due to lack of space only a portion of the references cited are listed here. A complete list of
references is available from the author.]
Bird, Caroline (1979), The Two Paycheck Marriage, New York: Pocket Books.
Davis, Harry L. (1976), "Decision Making Within the Household," Journal of Consumer
Research, 2, 241-260.
Del Boca, Bella M. and Ashmore, Richard D. (1980), "Sex Stereotypes Through the Life Cycle,"
in Ladd Wheeler, ed., Review of Personality and Social Psychology: 1, Beverly Hills: Sage
Publications, 163-192.
Herzog, Elizabeth and Sudia, Cecelia E. (1973), "Children in Fatherless Families" in Bettye M.
Caldwell and Henry N. Riccuiti, ed., Child Development Research, Vol. 3, Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 141-232.
Howe, Louise Kapp (1977), Pink Collar Workers, New York: Avon Books.
Lopata, Helena Z. (1971), Occupation: Housewife, New York: Oxford University Press.
Lopata, Helena Z., Barnewolt, Debra and Norr, Kathleen (1980), "Spouses' Contributions to
Each Other's Roles," in Fran Pepitone-Rockwell, ed., Dual-Career Couples, Beverly Hills: Sage
Publications, 111-142.
Roberts, Mary Lou and Wortzel, Lawrence H. (1979a) "Husbands Who Prepare Dinner: A Test
of Competing Theories of Marital Role Allocations." in Jerry L. Olsen, ed., Advances in
Consumer Research, 7, 669-671.
Roberts, Mary Lou and Wortzel, Lawrence H. (1979b), "New Life-Style Determinants of
Women's Food Shopping Behavior" Journal of Marketing, 43, 28-39.
Samuels, Victoria (1975) "Nowhere To Be Found, A Literature Review and Annotated
Bibliography on White Working Class Women," Institute on Pluralism and Group Identity,
Working Paper Series, Number 13.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of The Census (1980), "A Statistical Portrait of Women
in the United States: 1978."
Wortzel, Lawrence H. and Roberts, Mary Lou (forthcoming), "The Cooking, Food Shopping and
Eating-Out Behavior of Husbands and Wives."


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full version The Role Of Gender In Consumer Behavior Essay

The Role Of Gender In Consumer Behavior

Category: Business
Autor: back_up 13 April 2010
Words: 4309 | Pages: 18
The Role of Gender in Consumer Behavior

Needs, wants, motives, values and actions are all critical components of the human experience.
Who we are is very much a combination of our experiences and our genetic code. In this context,
understanding the role of gender role in society is extremely important when looking at how
people perceive and react to various stimuli. This paper reviews how males and females differ
biologically, psychologically and culturally, and how these factors can influence consumer
behavior. Due to the complexity of this issue (e.g. ethnic background, family value system,
mother/infant relationship, sibling/parental interactions, position as first-, second-, third-born
child, sociocultural interaction), the scope of this research will generalize based on U.S. norms
with a primary focus on early gender development, especially as it relates to cognitive

While biological and physiological differences define the sexual differences between male and
female, the term gender relates to "The set of arrangements by which a society transforms
biological sexuality into products of human activity, and in which these transformed needs are
satisfied" (Reiter 1975). There is much debate over which came first, biology or behavior.
For instance, were males born stronger and therefore became the predominant hunter, or were
they born with a hunting instinct and later developed the physical attributes required for this
activity. While it is the author's opinion that most likely, both behavior and biology evolved
slowly, reacting to environmental factors - the fact remains the men and women are different.

Hormonally, male androgens and female estrogens and progesterones are found in differing
concentrations at birth but these levels rise significantly during the pubertal period of
development. As hormones play a critical role in psychological organization and sexual
disposition, the lower levels found in young children (e.g. pre-school and elementary age) may
account for why boys are girls are less different than men and women. Recent
neuropsychological research in the relationship between hormonal development and sexual
difference suggests that hormonal levels might play a significant role in spatial development and
marker cues (Herman and Wallen, 2007). For example, males typically use distance and
direction (e.g. North, South, East and West) to find location whereas females use more physical
cues (e.g. street signs or buildings).

A recent study finds that, by comparing normal female and male rhesus macaques to those who
differed in their prenatal exposure to androgens, the research team observed that “When
both spatial and marker cues were available, performance did not differ by sex or prenatal
treatment. When salient landmarks directly indicate correct locations but spatial information is
unreliable, females perform better than males. Male subjects whose testosterone exposure had
been blocked early in gestation were more able to use the landmarks to navigate than were
control males. They performed more like females. This suggests that prenatal testosterone likely
plays a role in establishing the sex difference in using landmarks for navigation.”

A major drawback regarding most research on this subject is that is it conducted primarily on
non-human subjects (hormonal experimentation can require large amounts of blood samples).
The difficulty lies in determining what is relevant for our species. For example, a recent
experiment determined that male roundworms preferred the smell of green vegetables, as
opposed to hermaphroditic worms that preferred the smell of buttery popcorn. By manipulating
hermaphroditic neurons to behave similar to male neurons, the manipulated worms went toward
the green peppery smell (White, Jorgensen et. al 2007). Although this implies a relationship
between smell preference and sex, there is no way this study can directly correlate to human
behavior. However, the research of simple organisms gives scientists a clearer picture of what
might trigger different reactions to stimuli in more complex biological systems.

Although the exact mechanics of sexuality, hormones and behavior are not fully understood,
most researchers do agree that hormones significantly contribute to differences in social behavior
both between sexes and within the same sex (Chess, Thomas, Hertzig 1988). There is strong
evidence to suggest that a critical period of gender role development comes between 18 months
and 3 years (Money J., Ehrkardy, A. 1972). Infants with normal hormonal levels during this
stage are extremely likely to develop in a normal psychosexual manner. There also appears to be
a correlation between specific hormonal levels and stimuli during the course of gender
development. For example, males with high levels of stress or those who loose often (e.g. a
game, an argument, a job) show a drop in testosterone levels, while hyper-androgenized girls
tend to enjoy more physical activities and prefer a male-oriented social hierarchy (Money J.,
Ehrkardy, A. 1972).

Recent research suggests that female brain consists of a larger concentration of white brain
matter, which has been link to the transferring information between parts of the brain. One
suggested advantage of this stronger “transfer” network is a greater capacity to
describe emotional state (which may help explain why females do not struggle as much with
their thoughts during adolescence compared to males). In contrast the grey-matter, which is more
strongly linked to information processing, is predominantly responsible for cognitive abilities in
males (Haier 2005). In addition to correlating type of predominant brain-matter to gender-based
cognitive function, a review of how hemispherical lateralization differs between sexes is critical
to understanding gender difference, especially with respect to cognitive skill and stimuli

The left hemisphere is generally more involved with processing verbal information while the
right hemisphere processes more spatial information. It widely accepted that prenatal hormones
play a critical role in lateralization and bilateralization processes and may explain why males
tend to be better with spatial information while females typically develop superior verbal skills
(females also typically have greater bilateral brain function than do males, McGlone 1977). This
reinforces research on how men and women ask for and interpret directions to a location. As
previously stated, men typically use distance or orientation (e.g. 10 miles, North or South) while
women have a tendency to rely more heavily on landmark information.

New research even suggests that males and females often use different parts of their brains to
perform similar tasks. One interesting application of how this affects specific behavior can be
seen in the variation of gender respond to humor. By comparing brain activity over the course of
funny cartoons and unfunny cartoons (as defined by test subjects), researchers observed that
something funny caused increased activity in the female reward processing center while unfunny
stimuli caused deactivation of this region in males. In other words, “men have much
higher expectations for their cartoon-reading experience than women do. Women are pleasantly
surprised when they get the joke, whereas men are sorely disappointed when they do not”
(Azim 2003).

As previously stated, we cannot down play the potential influence that external factors such as
family and social development play with respect to gender development. Children are born with
stereotypes (e.g. gender-specific names, gender-specific colors, gender-specific toys) that begin
to frame a child's perception of the world with respect to gender (social learning theory, Bee
1998). Historically boys have been encouraged to play with toys that involve spatial abilities and
have been encouraged more than girls to pursue math or science-based activities. Yet studies
have shown that the spatial abilities of girls have greatly improved over the last 40 years, most
likely due to changes in cultural standards with respect to spatial development. Even though the
gap in gender-based performance has narrowed, statistically girls continue to lag behind boys in
math and sciences (Mead, 2006).

Physical differences between males and females also influence gender roles. Obvious differences
include the fact that men are (on average) taller than women. Some of these differences are
subtle but could have profound effects on gender stereotyping. For instance, from birth, girls
typically have better hearing than do boys. These differences to manifest themselves in different
social expectations (e.g. women typically play a greater role in raising children). An astute
marketer would to well to understand how these physical difference could effect purchasing
behavior and use. .
Using Cognitive Development Theory as a framework, it is observed that children become aware
of gender identity between the ages of two and three (gender labeling). This actualization
coincides with the initial development of motives, values and behaviors associated with cultural
norms in a process commonly referred to as gender typing. With that said, US culture has seen a
lot of change in the past several decades with respect to traditional gender roles and gender
behaviors. For instance, the fact that men today are more involved with their daughters' lives
(e.g. playing with them and encouraging their participation in sports and education) and that
traditionally feminine traits of collaboration and empathy are more socially accepted may both
be partially responsible for a blurring of gender roles in society today (Kindlon 2006).

Stereotypical gender-specific toys (whether socially provoked or personally chosen) appear to

reinforce gender roles (e.g. boys are encouraged to explore while girls build social hierarchy and
role-play maternal behavior). Also, around the age of two, boys are more often observed as being
louder and more aggressive where as girls are typically more cooperative and complaint (debate
over whether this phenomena is purely biological or is a result of cultural expectations continues
[e.g. girls are expected to behave]). Additionally, young children have a tendency to want to play
with children of the same sex. It has been suggested that boys prefer to play with boys because
they are more aggressive with each other and that most girls do not prefer aggressive interaction
(Maccoby 1998). The preference for same-sex groups typically continues through adolescence.
Starting around the age of three, sustained memories begin to form the basis of individual value
systems and differences in gender continue to shape child development. At this time, gender
begins develop as part of the psycho-social meaning attached to biological differences. Around
the age of four, children begin to grasp that anatomical differences between sexes is permanent
(gender constancy). According to one international survey involving over 90 countries, by the
age of five children perceive women as being the more emotional of the two sexes. Between the
ages of 5-8, children begin to develop moral standards and start to develop and to explore the
deeper emotional aspects associated with the different sexual roles (e.g. self-categorization,
female as child bearer, gender identity). This process becomes much more complex as males and
females approach adolescence. By this stage, the major framework for gender differences has
been established.

One consequence of this framework which has major implications in a behavioral context is how
men and women group information. It has been suggested that males prefer to process
information on a more general level, which infers that they do not look as closely at product
attributes, rather focusing on comparison by common threads as opposed to subtle differences
(Meyers-Levy, 1986). Whereas females prefer to review differentiations based on attributes and
would therefor make brand-based decisions based on differentiating factors. Additional research
suggests that men typically utilize a single dimension on which brands are segregated (e.g chose
type of cuisine to distinguish restaurants versus using location or price as primary category) and
men will group potentially unrelated brands together as long as they meet this single
distinguishing factor. Females are more likely to create multiple dimensions when categorizing
information (e.g. type of cuisine, price and atmosphere). So where men categorize “The
Olive Garden” as an “Italian eatery”, women might see it as a
“clean, mid-priced Italian eatery” (Wajda, Hu 2004).

An example of how this could effect behavior involves brand positioning. In categories where
women are the primary audience, more specific product positioning could have a more
significant impact on perceived product value. For products in male-dominated categories, such
attention to detail in position may not be as critical and driving home one key message regarding
product benefit. In products with a mixed gender audience, the marketer should take advantage
of visual cues to focus a message that will initially promote a single benefit but that delivers
additional attribute and positioning information after the key message has been delivered
(allowing enough time for males to process and categorize the initial message) in an effort to
balance large buckets information with minimal processing effort.
Our review to this point has depicted numerous examples of how nature and nurture combine to
influence gender roles. With this structure in place, we can now get a better understanding of
how it may be possible to enhance individual responses to stimuli based on gender-related
response. For example, knowing that males use spatial relationships to find locations while
women typically rely on landmarks, we might want to reference both types of information on a
website giving our location (within the past few years, MapQuest has developed map-based,
orientation-based and even aerial-based directions to improved the functionality of its product for
both genders).

Quite possibly, the use of verbal cues (e.g. showing actual words) in a spatially complex
advertisement might enhance positive affect with a female audience (even though the primary
audience for such a spatially-focused advertisement should be male-dominated). If we
incorporate the finding that males tend to rely on a single/primary piece of information in order
to process information, as opposed to females who tend to take in information from multiple
avenues and that men typically will typically expend less effort to process information (Meyers-
Levy, 1986), we can start to develop a clearer picture as to how men and women might react
differently to specific messages.

Also, by incorporating general product-involvement knowledge with an understanding of how

men and women interpret humor, we get a better understanding of what circumstances might
increase the successful in humor-based advertising (e.g. varying humor in different ads within a
series, frequency of ad placement). Eventually, study of gender may give researchers insight into
not only that men prefer one brand or color over those preferred by women, but also which
biological functions might be at the heart of these likes and dislikes. The reality is that we have
only scratched the surface of understanding as to how gender influences behavior. For example,
a series of ads targeted at men might address a limited number of benefits but provide more
information on the benefits specified. Where as a campaign directed at women might incorporate
an additional number of benefits because women are more likely to process this additional
information. Of course, testing the relevance of any specific benefit to either gender would be a
prudent preliminary course of action.

Since this research focused primarily on the earliest stages of gender development, the topic of
gender group dynamics was beyond scope. However, an understanding of how gender groups
form and what might influence these groups are important to a discussion of gender and behavior
(e.g. how does one become an alpha female, what are the long-term implications of various
gender-specific social hierarchy roles). For instance, it has been widely observed that women are
more prone to becoming shop-a-holics. Is this due to traditional gender roles (e.g. housewives
might have more time to shop or might be more exposed to the shopping experience), or what
other gender development and biological factors might yield a more precise rationale for this
behavior. Another relevant topic not covered here concerns how aging affects men and women.
For instance, women tend to be much more active later in life and have longer lifespans. This
information would be extremely critical to a land developer creating a senior citizen retirement

Despite the limited scope of the research for this paper, the information gathered was extremely
eye opening. Clearly, the stage has been set for great strides in gender behavior research in the
near future. For instance, by utilizing brain-pattern research similar to the humor experiment
(Azim 2003) with respect to how men and women process taxonomic information (e.g. internally
develop brand categories), we might gain a better understanding of this phenomena. The
information we do have already has a wide range of implications (e.g. health, behavior) and
should open the door for the next generation of gender-based marketing. Cognitive development
and process can be thought of as the gateway to explaining subcultural differences in gender
behavior. Other physical attributes (e.g. average height), cultural factors (e.g. group interaction,
lifestyle, age) and personal traits (e.g. individual hormone levels) all influence are and influenced
by gender. Additionally, it is critical that we not generalize research findings on gender, we must
remember the context in which information is gathered and we must consider the complex
network of socio/cultural/biological confounding factors that are relevant to behavior. For
instance, gender-specific information processing for restaurants might depend on non-gender
based likes and dislikes, and it may greatly differ from how men and women process brand
information on cars. Also, intelligence itself is a critical factor which might attribute for
differences in cognitive structuring of categories. In any case, a discussion on consumer behavior
most definitely should begin with at least a basic understanding of the complex network of
nature and nurture associated with gender.

Web-based & Podcasts
Researchers Sniff Out Brain Sex Differences. Scientific American 60-second podcast.

Sex and prenatal hormone exposure affect cognitive performance. Emory WHCH Press Release.

Mead, S. (2006). Evidence Suggests Otherwise: The Truth About Boys and Girls. Education
Sector. www.educationsector.org/analysis/analysis_show.htm?doc_id=673669

Runyan, A. (2005). Sex is more than socialization. The Stanford Daily Online

Book-based Research
Bee, H., Lifespan development. New York: Longman, 1988.
Thomas, A., Chess, S., Birch, H. G., Herzig, M. E., Kom, S. Behavioral individuality in early
childhood. New York: New York Univer- sity Press, 1963.

Hetherington, E. M. and Parke, Ross D. Child Psychology: A Contemporary Viewpoint. New

Mc Graw - Hill, 1986.

Kindlon, D. Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She is Changing the
World. New York: Rodale Books, 2006.

Liss, Marsha B. Social and Cognitive Skills: Sex Roles and Children's Play. San Bernardino,
CA: Academic Press, 1983.

Mayer, John D. Personality: A Systems Approach. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon 2007.

Meyers-Levy, J. "Gender Differences in Information Processing: A Selectivity

Interpretation," chapter in Cognitive and Affective Responses to Advertising, P. Cafferata
and A. Tybout (eds.), Lexington Books, 1988.

Money, J. and Ehrhardt, A. Man & Woman, Boy & Girl: Gender Identity from Conception to
Maturity. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1996. Originally published: Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1972.

Reiter, Rayna R. Toward an Anthropology of Women (Introduction). New York: Monthly

Review Press, 1975.

Schaffer, Kay F., Sex Roles and Human Behavior. Cambridge MA: Winthrop Publishers, 1981.

Periodical-based Research
Bella, Emily C., Willsonb, Morgan C., Wilmanb, Alan H., Davea, Sanjay and Silverstone, Peter
H. “Males and females differ in brain activation during cognitive tasks.”
NeuroImage, Volume 30, Issue 2, April 2006, Pages 529-538.

Herman, Rebecca A., Measdaya, Megan A. and Wallen, Kim. “Sex differences in interest
in infants in juvenile rhesus monkeys: relationship to prenatal androgen.” Hormones and
Behavior, Volume 43, Issue 5, May 2003, Pages 573-583.

Haier, Richard J. “The neuroanatomy of general intelligence: sex matters.”

Volume 25, Issue 1, March 2005, Pages 320-327.

Talbot, Margaret, “Girls Just Want to be Mean”, (New America Foundation) The
New York Times
Magazine, February 24, 2002.
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Sensory Circuitry for Sexual Attraction in C. elegans Males.” Current Biology Vol. 17,
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Research Papers
Wajda, T., Hu, M., “Gender Differences in Cognitive Structure: Preferred Levels of
Abstraction.”, Kent State University, 2004.

Appendix I - Observations on Gender Differences

(source: The Stanford Daily, Sex is More Than Socialization, August 18, 2005 by Andrea

Early Differences

• At one day old, boys look at mobiles longer than newborn girls.

• At 12 months, girls look at human faces longer compared to boys.

• One-year-old boys preferred watching a film showing cars to one showing a person.
Girls showed the opposite preference.

• At a few hours, old girls are more sensitive than boys to touch. Tests between the sexes
of tactile sensitivity in the hands and fingers produce differences so striking that sometimes male
and female scores do not even overlap, with the most sensitive boy feeling less than the least
sensitive girl.

• When it comes to sound, infant females are much less tolerant — one researcher
believes that they may “hear” noises as being twice as loud as do males. Baby
girls become irritated and anxious about noise, pain or discomfort more readily than do baby

• At four months, most baby girls can distinguish photographs of people they know from
photographs of strangers; baby boys cannot.

• Three- and four-year-old boys are better at mentally rotating figures than girls of the
same age.

• Evidence accumulated more recently, however, suggests that the effects of sex
hormones on brain organization occur so early in life that from the start the environment is acting
on differently wired brains in boys and girls.

• Boys outnumber girls four to one in remedial reading classes.

• When asked to judge when someone might have said something potentially hurtful, girls
score higher from at least seven years old.

• Women are more sensitive to facial expressions. They are better at decoding non-verbal
communication, picking up subtle nuances from tone of voice or facial expression or judging a
person’s character. Men tend to show “direct” aggression such as hitting
whereas women show covert or relational aggression, such as gossip or verbal insults.

• Hypothesis: women’s brains are designed for empathy whereas men’s
are built for understanding and building systems.

• The amygdala, the brain’s emotion-control center, shows significantly higher
levels of activity in males viewing sexual visual stimuli than females viewing the same images,
according to a study led by Emory University psychologists Stephan Hamann and Kim Wallen.

• Women might have better short-term memories. They can store greater amounts of
irrelevant and random information than men, who seem to need the information to be organized
in order to remember it.

• Men tend to perform better than women on certain spatial tasks. They do well on tests
that involve mentally rotating an object or manipulating it in some fashion, such as imagining
turning [a] three-dimensional object or determining where the holes punched in a folded piece of
paper will fall when the paper is unfolded.

• Men also are more accurate than women at target-directed motor skills, such as guiding
or intercepting projectiles. They do better at matching lines with identical slopes. And men tend
to do better than women on tests of mathematical reasoning.

• Women tend to perform better than men on tests of perceptual speed in which subjects
must rapidly identify matching items. When reading a story, paragraph or a list of unrelated
words, women demonstrate better recall. Women do better on precision manual tasks —
that is, those involving fine motor coordination — such as placing the pegs in holes on a
board. And women do better than men on mathematical calculation tests.

• Among a sample of 40,000 “gifted” 12- to 14-year-olds who took the
SAT, about twice as many boys as girls scored above 500 on the math section; four times as
many scored above 600; and 13 times as many boys than girls scored above 700. Boys and girls
performed approximately the same on the verbal portion.

• Observations on people who scored in the 99th percentile on the math portion of the
SAT and found that as they worked on problems, the men relied on grey matter in the cerebral
and parietal cortices, whereas women showed more activity in areas with white matter, sparking
the observation by Richard Haier, a professor of psychology at the UCLA Medical School that
“Maybe [the women] are doing the math using the white matter.”

Structural differences

• Men have about six-and-a-half times the amount of gray matter related to general
intelligence than women, and women have nearly 10 times the amount of white matter related to
intelligence than men. These findings suggest that human evolution has created two different
types of brains designed for equally intelligent behavior. Gray matter is used for information
processing, while white matter consists of the connections between processing centers.

• The difference in white and gray matter between the sexes might help to explain why
men excel at local processing tasks while women tend to be good at integrating and assimilating
information from distributed gray-matter regions.

• 84 percent of gray-matter regions and 86 percent of white-matter regions involved with
intellectual performance in women were found in the brain’s frontal lobes, compared to
45 percent and zero percent for males. Thus, most of women’s brain matter involved in
intelligence is in the frontal lobes, whereas the grey and white matter involved in men’s
intelligence is distributed throughout brain regions.

• Women have up to 15 percent more brain-cell density in certain areas of the frontal
lobe, which controls so-called higher mental processes including judgment, personality, planning
and working memory.

• Parts of the corpus callosum, a major neural system connecting the two hemispheres, as
well as the anterior commissure, another connecting structure, are larger in women, which might
enable better communication between hemispheres.

• Men seem to have greater asymmetry between brain hemispheres, and damage to one
hemisphere often has more of an effect on cognition than a similar injury in women.

Hormones affect the brain

• Prenatal testosterone levels were positively correlated with skills on a mental rotation
test (imagining objects being rotated).

• Males with IHH (idiopathic hypogonadotrophic hypogonadism) have small testes (and
therefore low levels of testosterone) and are worse at spatial reasoning.

• Male babies with androgen insensitivity (AI) syndrome are also worse at spatial

• Females with CAH (congenital adrenal hyperplasia) have high levels of androgens and
enhanced spatial systemizing.

• Women’s performance on certain mental tasks varied throughout their menstrual
cycles. High levels of estrogen were correlated with decreased spatial ability but increased
speech and manual skills.
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