According to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, green behaviors like recycling and carpooling are considered "feminine," and therefore fewer men are interested in saving the planet than women.
One way to fix this, the study's authors suggest, is for policymakers and marketers to make the branding messages of green products and behaviors more macho.
Researchers have known for a while that women tend to be more concerned about the environment than men. Previous studies have attributed the gender eco-friendliness gap to a difference in personality traits, with the idea that women are more likely to be altruistic and nurturing.
But this study, published last month, focuses on the association of femininity with greenness. After conducting a series of experiments, researchers found that consumers who "go green" are stereotyped by others as more feminine. In one survey, participants were read a scenario in which a shopper, either male or female, is seen checking out at the grocery store and carrying either a plastic bag or a reusable canvas bag. They were asked to describe the person using one of nine listed traits, which included masculine, feminine, and gender-neutral terms. On average, men and women saw the consumers who engaged in green behavior as more feminine than those who did not.
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Additionally, the researchers found that men will go out of their way to avoid green products and behaviors when their gender identity is threatened. Something as innocent as a pink Walmart gift card with a floral design sent men running away from environmentally-friendly goods. But when their masculinity was affirmed—for example, being told they did something "like a man"—they were more likely to purchase the green product.
Mathew Isaac is one of the study's authors and an associate professor at the Albers School of Business at Seattle University. He tells Broadly that one reason men tend to stay away from products and actions they consider feminine is because of the length men go to maintain their gender identity. "[Men] might be more attuned to this and try to make sure that they are projecting their masculine identity."
In order to identify ways to help men be more environmentally conscious, Isaac and his team tested the effectiveness of using masculine branding to "reduce men's inhibitions towards green behaviors." They found that men in the study were more likely to donate to a nonprofit named Wilderness Rangers, which had a dark and bold logo with an image of a howling wolf, than an organization called Friends of Nature, which had a green and light tan logo.
"These findings identify masculine branding as a managerially-relevant boundary condition and complement prior research in suggesting that perhaps men would be more willing to make environmentally-friendly choices if the feminine association attached to green products and actions was altered," researchers write.
However, the study's results raise eyebrows for some. Carrie Preston, associate professor of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at Boston University, told the Washington Post that the idea of men being repelled by products or actions that appear feminine is concerning. "That says what's feminine is bad, is lesser, is second class," she said. "Although men's and women's roles have changed significantly, masculinity hasn't changed as much."
For his part, Isaac says he and his colleagues were surprised to see the association of femininity with green products and actions over and over again—and not just with men, but also with women and among different age groups.
"I think the bottom line is, one's gender, for many people, tends to be a very important part of their identity," Isaac says. "And we know that when something is an important part of their identity, they go to great lengths to preserve that because it's so meaningful as to who they are and how they define themselves."