Men Are Worse for Climate Change Than Women Because They Love Meat and Cars

A new study has found that men emit 16% more greenhouse gases than women because they spend more money on fuel and meat.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
July 21, 2021, 6:04pm
man eating meat; climate change; greenhouse gases
Man eating a large chunk of steak stock photo via Getty Images

Men emit 16 percent more greenhouse gases than women because they tend to spend more money on fuel and eat more meat, among other things, a new study has found. 

The discrepancy is attributed to spending habits, or what men choose to spend their money on—and not because men spend more money than women overall. In fact, they only spend about 2 percent more than women in total, according to the study, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

“These expenditures are as you would expect in a gender stereotype: Women spend more money on health care, furnishings, buy more food, clothes. Men spend more money on eating out, alcohol and tobacco, and more money on cars and fuels,” said the study’s lead author, Annika Carlsson Kanyama, with the research company Ecoloop in Sweden. 

“If men spent money the same way as women, their emissions would be similar but they are not,” Carlsson Kanyama said. 

Carlsson Kanyama and her team analyzed 217 products and services frequently purchased by single men and women Sweden, and found that diets, holidays, and furnishings and their repairs (new and used cups, bookcases, beds, and dishwashers, for example) represented the largest sources of consumer emissions—up to 60 percent of emissions in total.

For single men and women in Sweden, food and drink accounts for about a quarter of emissions, holidays account for about a third, and furnishings make up between 2 and 5 percent. (While holidays and food habits are the biggest sources of emissions, the team included furnishings because it shows “where sharing and second-hand practices can make a difference.”)

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A person’s total greenhouse gas emissions can decrease by 36 to 38 percent when people change their eating, vacation, and furnishing habits, and they don’t have to spend more money to do so, according to the study. Men spent 70 percent more on fuel and other high emitters. They also spent more on meat, but women spent more on dairy. 

Meat and dairy have “much higher emissions than all their replacements,” including tofu, soy and oat milk, and vegetables, the study says, while travel by train or “staycations” offer alternatives to air and car travel. Pork, for example, is five times more polluting than tofu, while lamb is a whopping 25 times more polluting than tofu. 

Carlsson Kanyama’s study seeks to illustrate how greenhouse gas emissions caused by household consumption can be reduced without additional costs. Experts have repeatedly said it’s important to factor in the differences between men and women when measuring emissions, but few studies have captured it. 

“Gender is one of many factors to take into account when talking about how we can reduce emissions,” Carlsson Kanyama said. “Lowering car use, for example. Men use cars more than women, so maybe policies should target men.”

“We should encourage men to spend money like a woman… even if of course women have to make changes too.”

The team collected data from 2012 from Statistics Sweden—the most recent data available from the agency. They turned to other indices, so that they could make conclusions based on spending patterns from 2016. Carlsson Kanyama said more recent data could include some differences, but it would probably show the same “overall pattern.”

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“I looked at older data, beginning in 2000, and the differences were there then,” she said. “And Sweden is a very equal country, so if you find differences in Sweden, you're likely to find them in many other countries—and perhaps more pronounced.” 

While women are less likely to emit greenhouse gases, they’re bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a European network of citizen-led environmental organizations, recently released a report calling for a continent-wide environmental strategy that factors in gender diversity. 

“Women with varying levels of marginalization, for instance, racialized women, young women, women with disabilities and non-gender conforming people, face intersectional discrimination,” the report says. “They are more vulnerable to environmental problems and effects of climate change and the risk of being left behind in the green transition.”

For decades, climate scientists have been issuing dire warnings about the climate crisis. This year, however, even they say they’re surprised by how quickly extreme weather events have escalated—fatal floods, heat waves, and forest fires have been tearing through Canada, the U.S., and western Europe.

“We’re at a point where everyone on the planet now has felt the impacts of climate change itself, or at least someone they love or know has,” Merritt Turetsky, director at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, told CNN.

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