Women may be stereotyped as the gender that likes to shop, but spending by men has a much larger carbon footprint, according to a study of consumers in Sweden.
The study, published this week in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, looked at the carbon emissions created by consumption among categories like food, clothing, furniture and vacations. Even though the several hundred single men and women studied spent similar amounts of money, men’s purchases created 16% higher emissions, the authors found. That’s because men were more likely to drop money on high-emitting categories, such as gasoline for cars, spending 70% more than women on that expenditure. Women spent more on health care, clothing and furniture — consumer categories that were less emitting.
“The way they spend is very stereotypical,” Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, lead researcher on the study, told The Guardian. “[W]omen spend more money on home decoration, health and clothes and men spend more money on fuel for cars, eating out, alcohol and tobacco,” she told the media outlet.For both sexes, vacations played a big role in emissions, with one-third of the carbon emitted every year by a typical spender tied to a vacation. Here, again, men were more likely to drive cars on a leisure trip, and so men’s vacation emissions were higher. When both sexes booked package tours, there was no difference in carbon footprint.The researchers concluded that about 40% of consumption-based emissions could be avoided by making different choices, such as taking a train instead of driving.
Previous research from Carlsson-Kanyama has shown that men tend to use more energy than women, which increases their carbon emissions. By contrast, the study showed that men’s and women’s diets were nearly equal in their carbon impact —men consumed more meat while women consumed more dairy. Carlsson-Kanyama told the Guardian she was surprised more studies didn’t examine gender-based differences in carbon footprint, saying, “There are quite clear differences and they are not likely to go away in the near future.”The patterns hold across the Atlantic. American men tend to drive more than women, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. A 2010 analysis by Slate found that the typical single man in the U.S. was responsible for about 6% more carbon emissions than the typical single woman. In both the U.S. and Sweden, single people were responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than married people or people in households. That’s because parents’ emissions are balanced out by their children, who do not pollute much when they’re young.
However, a 2017 study concluded that the most effective way to reduce one’s carbon footprint was to have fewer children, followed by living car-free and avoiding air travel.