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 development.
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...
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