Pretty much everyone has been yelled at by dad a time or two and told to keep their hands off the thermostat. But Afamia Elnakat has shown that when it comes to energy consumption, it’s really the women in the household who have the power, and they also consume quite a bit more energy than men do.
Elnakat, an associate professor of research with the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute at UTSA, has completed a study with colleague Juan D. Gomez, that shows that by and large households with more females consume 54 percent more electricity than households with more males, and more than twice as much gas.
Why? Firstly, women’s thermal set points make them more sensitive to temperature variations. Basically, they on average have lower body temperatures. Also, they are usually more involved in water heating activities, including taking longer showers, which consume significant amounts of gas.
“No one wants to talk about pre-menopause or PMS,” Elnakat said. “But it’s not a hormonal or emotional thing. It’s also a physical effect that influences body temperature.”
The biggest reason, however, is that although women are working, they’re also on average taking on as much housework and childcare as ever. Elnakat said this actually gives women more power in their ability to influence energy consumption.
“Even though women are working, they still spend more time in the household nurturing, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children,” she said. “It’s called the Second Shift, and it’s been established in many studies. It hasn’t really changed over the years. As a result, women have greater influence on the kids and the household.”
In her study, Elnakat recognizes that many organizations that want to promote conservation are in a unique position. Armed with this new information, they can target women in their efforts to encourage conservation.
“It’s not to point fingers,” she said. “It’s to empower women’s participation in energy decisions.”
The idea came about, in fact, when Elnakat was sitting at her desk at UTSA and found herself looking at a calendar from the World Bank Water and Sanitation Program that depicted truths and misconceptions about women in underdeveloped countries, mainly in how water affects their lives.
“I found that there was very little information about gender and energy consumption in developed countries, like ours,” she said. “That’s important when you’re looking at the impact of energy use on the environment and energy security for our nation. Women play a large role in managing that use at the household level.”
Elnakat’s study is due to be published in Elsevier’s Energy Policy July 2015 issue.