Cognitive Daily

This week’s Casual Friday study attempted to get to the bottom of the age-old thermostat battle. In every office, classroom, and home, it seems, no one can agree on the proper temperature to set the thermostat. While one person is shivering like a wet poodle, their office-mate is sweating like fountain. I’ve talked with a few of my (now over-40) friends about the issue, and several of us agree that we seem to be getting more sensitive to temperature as we age.

A much more common stereotype, however, is that men tend to run hot while women run cold. When my family watches TV together, Jim and I are often in shorts and T-shirts while Greta and Nora huddle together under an afghan. We asked 333 readers how often they felt cold indoors when the room was a “normal” temperature, and the responses confirmed the stereotype:

i-ebc649ec799d599b1babd2114e3399b5-hotcold1.gif

Nearly half of all women responding said they felt cold “daily,” compared to just 13 percent of men. Most men indicated they felt cold only once a month or less, whereas over 75 percent of women felt cold more than once a week. All these differences are statistically significant.

These two graphs show how that disparity leads to conflict at the thermostat:

i-4c3eeec2fc3de4d55d7a94fb69091eb7-hotcold2.gif

Both male and female readers were asked what their thermostats were set at during the day in winter, and what temperature they would set them at if they didn’t have to compromise with others. Many men clearly would like the thermostats lower than the actual settings, and many women would like it warmer. The real battleground is at the edges: while 22 percent of men want the thermostat set between 60 and 65 degrees, just 7 percent of women do. Meanwhile, 35 percent of women prefer a thermostat setting of 73 degrees or above, compared to just 15.8 percent of men. Again, all these differences are statistically significant.

There may have been some sampling bias in our results: normally the ratio of male-female response for Casual Fridays is about 60:40; this week it was 50:50 — clearly this is an issue that resonates more with women than our typical Casual Friday fare.

But what about our initial question? Do we get more sensitive to temperature as we age? And are there any other factors in temperature sensitivity?

We asked respondents to indicate their age, weight status (over or underweight), and amount of exercise. I calculated correlations for each of these factors, and these summarized in the graph below:

i-d809ae87c86a485f5d1565e329e7ba3d-hotcold3.gif

Asterisks indicate significant correlations. As expected, women are disproportionately unlikely to be hot and likely to be cold. Overweight status also matches stereotype, with overweight people significantly more likely to be hot and unlikely to be cold (though it should be noted that an r of .11 , though significant, is quite small). Amount of exercise showed no significant relationship to temperature sensitivity, but there was a significant small correlation between age and feeling hot. The anecdotal experience of me and my friends feeling colder as we get older is not borne out by our results here.

Who is most likely to want the thermostat turned down? An overweight, old man. Who will want it turned up? A thin, young woman.

We collected quite a bit more data than I’ve reported here; if anyone is interested in using it for further analysis, let me know and I’ll send you the files.

Comments

  1. #1 Paul Cox
    March 30, 2007

    Ever wonder why women don’t lose their hair?

    This discussion is exactly why. Men are causing their bodies to generate heat in an air conditioned and refrigerated world. Systemically causing their bodies to over heat. The excess heat is passed through the vent hole we call “male pattern baldness”. Heat is the chemical process that causes the hair to degrade.

    I document my research in this area on my website. My hypothesis is mammals shed, check out my website at http://mammals-shed.blogspot.com

  2. #2 Cheryl
    March 30, 2007

    The best things about menopause were the hot flashes!!!

  3. #3 Angyl
    March 30, 2007

    I wonder how much clothing impacts this? Women’s clothing, especilly business clothing, tends to be thinner and lighter, and might include skirts, short sleeves, lower necklines more often than men’s.

  4. #4 yoyo
    March 31, 2007

    Angyl is right. Menswear in office temperatures is almost unbearable.

  5. #5 Aaron Couch
    March 31, 2007

    Haha, This is great! I was just discussing this issue with a friend of mine a couple of days ago. She always tries to stay as toasty as possible, while I prefer to stay right around 70-72 degrees. I always make sure the heated seat is on for her in my car, even when she’s already wearing a sweatshirt!

  6. #6 Eeva
    April 1, 2007

    Including the temperatures on Celcius-scale as well would have made reading the article easier, at least for a chunk of foreign readers. I really have no sense how much 60 or 65 Fahrenheit is and I need to convert all of them to make sense as they are not used where I live.

  7. #7 Clod
    April 2, 2007

    I’ve always chalked it up to me being insensitive. To temperature, that is.

  8. #8 Gazelle
    April 2, 2007

    Women are more likely than men to suffer from hypothyroidism, which is often undiagnosed if it is mild. Among the symptoms associated with low thyroid hormone levels is feeling cold all the time, due to a sluggish metabolism.

    Of course this doesn’t exactly line up with your findings re: overweight vs. underweight (since one would think that those with sluggish metabolisms would be more likely to be overweight).

  9. #9 BWV
    April 3, 2007

    But did the study control for the outside temperature and who is paying the electric or gas bill? I bet men’s cheapness outweighs comfort anyday (true in my case at least). So I am always turning the thermostat down in winter and up in summer while my wife is doing the opposite. If it is 100F outside, I want the thermostat at 75 while she wants it at 72. If it was 30F it would be reversed.

  10. #10 Dave Munger
    April 3, 2007

    But did the study control for the outside temperature and who is paying the electric or gas bill?

    We collected climate data but I didn’t analyze it for this report. I’ve had one request to look at the data, so maybe that person will do a climate analysis and let us know if there’s anything to it. We didn’t take any sort of “cheapskate” measure.

  11. #11 Katherine Moore
    April 4, 2007

    “But did the study control for the outside temperature and who is paying the electric or gas bill? I bet men’s cheapness outweighs comfort anyday (true in my case at least). So I am always turning the thermostat down in winter and up in summer while my wife is doing the opposite. If it is 100F outside, I want the thermostat at 75 while she wants it at 72. If it was 30F it would be reversed.”

    Ok, this is you and your wife. From my own anecdotal evidence, I find that women want to turn the thermostat up in winter (like you find with your wife) but men want to turn it way down in the summer. In my response, I said that I preferred it to be 70 in the winter, but I would never adjust it more than 65 because of energy. Likewise, in the summer, I probably prefer 78 but would keep it at 80 (whereas in most offices, it’s a chilling 70 or lower in the summer…I find that to be a total waste of energy as well as a major discomfort.)

    As far as the age vs temp finding goes, I actually wonder whether that is driven by women and hotflashes during menopause. So I’m not actually sure whether an old, overweight male would be the most likely to turn down the thermostat. Maybe it would be a middle-aged overweight female. I think you’d have to look at the ages more carefully to discern this (though menopause can happen in decades of a range). Maybe you could see if men get hotter as they age, because that’s taking out the menopause factor altogether.

    I think the reason this topic might resonate with women more than with men was sort of carried out in the data (though I realize this is a circular argument) — offices tend to be set farther from the woman’s comfortable temperature than from the man’s. I think usually someone high-up, who’s usually a male, is the one in charge of the temperature. Or maybe women get more guilty about rocking the boat. I’m not sure the reason, but I feel like the standard is not female-centric. It might just be a matter of saving energy in the winter and saving the computers in the summer (hence keeping it cold with air conditioning) but either way female comfort level is not something that’s kept in mind.

    I think there are biological differences between men and women driving the temperature comfort level difference, but it’s exacerbated by typical dress, as someone else mentioned. Men are expected to wear suits to the office or to formal events, which always have many layers. Women, on the other hand, wear blouses and skirts, even in the winter! They wear strappy dresses to formal events. It’s actually pretty absurd given the gender’s relative comfort levels with temperature. At weddings I’m always freezing whereas my husband is sweating bullets. That has at least as much to do with our clothing as it has to do with our biology (though we also conform to the biology stereotype as well — when left to our own devices, I wear pants and sweaters far later into the spring than he does.)

  12. #12 Katherine Moore
    April 4, 2007

    Dave — I know this is an old post now, but I was wondering — how was the actual/desired setting calculated? I thought there were two questions for winter and for summer. Were those just averaged?

  13. #13 Dave Munger
    April 4, 2007

    That’s just for winter. We collected data for summer, but didn’t report it.

  14. #14 Allison
    April 5, 2007

    I think it would be interesting to control for “clothing type” – right now I’m in a government office and if I man were wearing what I’m wearing (or the gender equivilent with the same amount of skin showing) he’d probably have rather absurd-looking chest hair sticking out. I’m a heck of a lot warmer when I wear a wool suit, too.

    Maybe focus on what it is at home when our apparel is a little more similar?

  15. #15 christopher
    April 6, 2007

    i’ve always heard that men collect fat on their organs more so than women, which explains why men run hotter on average than women, who store more of their fat in their skin.

    so it wouldn’t seem that financial or clothing influences are the main factor. in fact i would argue that men are willing to think about the fiscal aspects because they can afford to (pun intended). they’re not cold, so why “waste” the heat?

  16. #16 Goran Bajramovic
    June 28, 2007

    Since the normal body temperature of men and women is about the same, I would argue the answer to this is in the combination of factors affecting skin such as blood circulation in the skin, thickness of the skin, and skin hair. Due to lack of such skin insulation, women skin is more sensitive to differences between their body temperature and environment which is why my wife is the first to complain when it’s either getting too cold or too hot.

  17. #17 carol
    October 3, 2008

    Hiya,

    I found this article really interesting, and I’d be really appreciate it if you could send me more of your analysis..

    Thanks,
    Carol.

  18. #18 Erin
    July 28, 2009

    I’ve always heard a couple of explanations for this: 1.) Muscle generates heat, and men have more muscle, and 2.) the distribution of fat in womens’ bodies is such that their core organs tend to stay warmer, at the cost of losing heat to their extremities, and if your hands and feet are cold, you will feel cold even if your core body temperature is actually higher.

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