As a joint major in psychology and women’s and gender studies, Brenda Segal ’12 never expected to find herself conducting marketing research. But when Associate Professor of Marketing Jeff Podoshen invited her to study male/female consumer habits, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to delve into a new area of knowledge.
“I sought her out because I was seeking students with interests in more than one area,” Podoshen says. “I was looking for someone who was interested in both gender studies and psychological issues related to business.”
The pair used a multidisciplinary approach to explore consumer habits and gender. Their study examined gender differences in materialism, conspicuous consumption, impulse buying and brand loyalty. Undertaking a broad literature review, they examined marketing and consumer reports and dissected historical buying habits by gender.
A common stereotype is that women are more avid shoppers than men, and therefore are more materialistic. Segal’s and Podoshen’s research findings showed otherwise. For example, 18th-century English accounting ledgers indicate men were historically considered to be the main collectors of household goods. “Men dominated the purchase of high-status, expensive goods, such as home furnishings and the family coach,” Segal says. “They were very materialistic and sought out the newest, and best, articles to outfit a coach, just as you would with a car today.”
Segal found that women, by contrast, traditionally related more to personal items, such as jewelry and plates. “During the 17th century, women were constantly moving,” she says. “They moved from their father’s house to their husband’s house, so what was ‘theirs’ was very limited. The items they passed on in their wills tended to be very personal: items that clothed them, touched their bodies and fed them.”
Based on her historical findings, Segal hypothesized men would prove to be more materialistic than women, and that women would conspicuously consume more than men. The study analyzed a data set of 1,000 survey participants from the Northeast and found a significant difference between men and women in terms of materialism and conspicuous consumption. Segal and Podoshen found that men are indeed more materialistic, but they were surprised to discover men also conspicuously consume more than women.
“Men seem to use purchasing more for external validation,” Segal says. “They are more likely to feel that owning certain material goods raises their happiness and promotes self-expression. I thought women would be higher in conspicuous consumption because of the visible examples that you see in society, but our findings indicated otherwise.” She did, however, find that women are more likely than men to make impulse purchases.
Segal says her study epitomizes what Franklin & Marshall is all about. “I entered as a psychology major until my junior year, when I enrolled in a women’s and gender studies class on a whim. It absolutely changed my life. This led to my research with Professor Podoshen, which has been the pinnacle of a multidisciplinary approach.”