28.1 Gender, lifestyles and climate change

Immanuel Stiess , Institute for Social-Ecological Research ISOE, Frankfurt a.M., Germany
Irmgard Schultz , Institute for Social-Ecological Research ISOE, Frankfurt a.M., Germany
In sustainable consumption research and policy it has become common to view consumption as a complex process, including the stages of purchase, use and disposal. Moving beyond a narrow economic perspective, consumption is defined not only in relation to market choice, but is seen as a whole set of activities, including selection, purchase, use, maintenance, repair and disposal of any product or service. Consumption activities, like eating, heating, or bathing are closely related to the way in which people organise their everyday lives. Like other social practices, these consumption practices are more or less institutionalised collective phenomena. They are governed by habits and routines rather than by deliberate and rational choice and are embedded in a social context. The way, we consume is framed by the context of households, family and community life. Consumption practices are not gender neutral and consumption is a gendered process. Women represent the largest group of shoppers, because they make the purchasing choices of everyday life items. They are involved in the entire consumption cycle of choosing, buying, using and disposing both for themselves and for others. Consumer surveys show, that women and men have differing consumption patterns. Together with income, age and household size, gender is a determining factor for consumer behaviour. Gender disaggregated statistics on household expenditure show that women have different income allocation preferences than men. Not only in so-called developing countries, but also in European countries women allocate their financial resources more on basic essentials than men do. Women spend more than men on consumer goods, including hygiene, health and clothing. Men are more likely to eat out than women, consume more alcohol and tobacco, and spend more on transport and sport. Time budget analysis provides another source which allows to assess how the use patterns of products and services in everyday life are differing between men and women. In most European countries consumption practices related to housework, caring activities and household organisation are still more closely associated with women. Despite an increasing participation of women in the labour market and the erosion of traditional gender role models, a persisting core of housework activities related to the preparation of food, washing and cleaning which is still assigned primarily to women. Gender is also an important factor influencing environmental consciousness and behaviour and perhaps more than age, income or any other socio-economic variable. Studies and surveys in various European countries show that women are significantly more aware of environmental issues and are more health oriented than men. This tendency is reflected in women’s consumption patterns. Men seem to be more technically oriented and are more risk friendly and less prevention oriented. In many cases women’s attitudes and orientations are more open to sustainable consumption strategies than men. It is also argued that women are likely to have less resource intensive and more sustainable lifestyles. On the other hand, it has been stated that women as well as men aren’t homogenous social groups. Consumption patterns are shaped by the interplay of gender with other socio-demographic factors, attitudes and lifestyle orientations. Thus, one might argue that gender aspects are more relevant for the consumption patterns of some social groups than of others. Taking stock of ongoing debates in gender and consumer research and on findings from own empirical surveys, we will take a closer look at two fields which are in particular relevant for climate change. Focusing on nutrition and domestic energy use, we will explore to what extent consumption patterns of women and men differ within these fields and how these differences are shaped by the interplay of gender relations, lifestyles and socio-demographic factors. We will then discuss the implications of these differing consumption patterns for energy use and carbon emissions. Against this background, we argue that a gender perspective can serve as an eye opener for social differences and provides a key to sharpen the view on everyday life. Drawing on an ongoing research project (EUPOPP) we will discuss some implications for the design and assessment of sustainable consumption strategies and instruments.