Thursday, October 4, 2018

econlife - Pink It, Shrink It, and Gender Design Discrimination by Elaine Schwartz

For years, women have needed sweaters, jackets, even snuggies at work. The reason takes us to some solid science…for men.

Our story starts with a 154 pound man in a business suit. Decades ago, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) needed guidelines for indoor climate control. To get some answers, they quantified the thermal protection from a man’s clothing (the clo scale) and a man’s activity (his MET).

What they wound up with is great for most men. But not for women. And not for a political candidate. I added the arrow:


Because women like and need it warmer–75 degrees rather than the male 70 degrees–much less cooling is necessary in commercial buildings.

This thermal comfort gender discrimination is only the beginning…

Design Discrimination

Outdoor Gear

According to the “Shrunk and Punk’d” podcast from New Hampshire Public Radio, women who want serious gear head for the men’s section in most stores.

When you look in the men’s department for backpacks, the usual choice is dark gray or black. Described as sleek and rather urban, men’s backpacks have metal loops and a generous supply of pockets. The women’s version is typically smaller and purple, pink, or light gray. It has fewer pockets, loops that are less durably made, and even a totally useless fringe. It is supposed to be “pretty.”


For seatbelts also, the men have been favored. A 2011 study concluded that women wearing seatbelts had a 71% higher chance of moderate injury than a man in a seatbelt. One possible reason? According to CBS News, seatbelts are designed for the average 40-year old man.

We should add though that the National Highway Administration started using female crash dummies in 2003 and GM, way before that, during the 1980s. However, the 2016 safety data still indicate the male is safer because of seatbelt design.

Our Bottom Line: Gender Design Discrimination

While there is gender design discrimination, we can end on a hopeful note.

Citing thermal sexism, New York’s Cynthia Nixon requested that a 76-degree room temperature for her debate with Governor Andrew Cuomo. Wired Magazine tells us that a female VP for merchandising was one reason that that REI is designing equipment and clothing for many body shapes and sizes. As for seatbelts, I can cite one female Swedish researcher at the Swedish National Road and Transport Institute. In 2016, she was working (2016) with Volvo on a female crash dummy.

You can see where I am going.

Breaking through glass ceilings, women have entered the rooms where men have been making political, design, and car safety decisions.

My sources and more: Thanks to Outside/In for making one of my walks a delight by telling me about “Shrunk and Punk’d.” Hearing that, I went to the Wired, the NY Times, this study, and this Medium article. Finally, for more on seatbelts, CBS and Driving had some facts while here is Cynthia Nixon’s 76 degree protest.

Our featured image is a Nest thermostat.

Ideal for the classroom, reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.