October 4 2011
Gender Differences May Be Explained in How we Eat
Anyone who reads the Inkwell regularly knows that I like to write about the ways men and women are different - and how those differences inform personal, professional, and educational choices. (See here for a recent example.)
Today I heard about some interesting research that is worth reporting on here. According to a story on NPR's Morning Edition, "the gender of your dining companions makes a big difference in what you eat and how much you eat."
According to Molly Allen-O'Donnell, then a graduate student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania was interested in knowing if our peers influence our eating decisions. So she conducted a study of 127 college students, observing how and what they chose to eat when eating together and apart. What she learned was that "the gender of people's dining partners" had a significant impact on what people chose to eat:
When women sat with other women, for example, they ordered an average of 833 calories. When they ate with men, on the other hand, they purchased only 721 calories on average.
While it wasn't particularly surprising that women would choose to eat less when sitting with men, the big surprise came when men ate together:
... The surprise was the men - think of a group of guys holding back on the wings at a tailgate party or a Superbowl pigout. But when men sat with other men, they ordered an average of only 952 calories. When they sat with women, they ordered 1162 calories.
Researchers aren't entirely sure what to make of these findings. Clearly "cultural norms" help explain some of this. When men and women eat together they frequently try to conform to certain gender expectations, in which men are big, strong carnivores, and women are dainty and not hungry. But the researchers acknowledged, "it was possible that unconscious scripts about how much to eat were at work when people sat down to a meal with someone of their own sex, not just when people sat down with someone of the opposite sex."
So while eating decisions may not (yet) explain differences in college majors, they are just one more reminder that men and women are different.