The first nine months of The Optimism Index have thrown up some interesting findings, but none more so than what we’ve come to call ‘The Gender Optimism Gap’.
In every month of our research so far men have been more optimistic than women, averaging 2.5 points higher on the index than women from January to September. More interesting than this, however, is the high level of consistency in the movement of male and female optimism. While women remain consistently less optimistic than men, the societal and economic factors which dictate optimism produce very similar changes in feeling. Since March, male and female optimism have risen and fallen together, often by very similar amounts.
The consistency of this pattern across socioeconomic factors is striking. Throughout the wider survey that produces the index, the gap remains consistent. This includes a range of issues from trust in the media or politicians to whether the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be with remarkably few convergences in trend lines. While there are some exceptions – women are more likely to say they trust ‘people from another country’ than men, for example – women’s responses are generally more negative than men’s. Women are consistently more likely to say that the world is more dangerous, that life in the UK is worse than it was 50 years ago for ‘people like them’, and their confidence in household and national economic outlooks is considerably less bullish than those of men.
These findings are corroborated by the academic literature surrounding gendered differences in optimism with women widely found to be less optimistic than men, particularly with regard to economic outlooks. One comprehensive study carried out by researchers in New Zealand titled “Are Men More Optimistic?” shows that in 17 out of 18 Western markets, men had significantly higher consumer confidence than men, and this is borne out in The Optimism Index data below.
This difference in consumer confidence has significant, practical implications for how consumers plan to spend their money. As well as asking consumers about their optimism and their economic confidence, the index explores how consumers anticipate changing their spending in the coming months, and once again, we see that men are more bullish than women.
Male and female consumer confidence has exhibited similar declines from August to September, however, there has been a marked difference in the way in which men and women plan to spend and save in the months ahead. The chart above examines the month-on-month change in the net anticipated spending for five different categories, as well as saving. To do this, we subtract the percentage of respondents who state that they will decrease their spending from the proportion who state that they will increase their spending, producing a net figure for each area of spending, before analysing the month-on-month change.
Despite decreased household and national economic confidence, there has been an increase in the proportion of men who anticipate spending more on essential items like groceries, out-of-home food and drink and leisure activities, ‘big ticket items’ and subscriptions, with an increase in anticipated saving. The decrease in consumer confidence has had the opposite impact on women, with net growth in the proportion of female respondents who anticipate reducing spend in all aspects of spending & saving behaviour with the exception of very small growth in spend on ‘big ticket items’ and subscriptions.
There are practical applications for this knowledge, with product ranges targeted at men and women requiring ever more nuanced approaches. Further complicating matters is the transient nature of these developments. While women have historically been more pessimistic than men, with lower consumer confidence, research has shown that in sharp economic downturns, both men and women lower their expectations resulting in the disappearance of gendered differences in economic optimism.
For some time, we have seen consumers adopting increasingly recessionary mindsets. Consumers anticipate economic adversity, but we are yet to see wall-to-wall coverage of financial doom and gloom that comes with recession. If worst-case-scenarios regarding Brexit come to fruition, we are likely to see harsh financial realities, and the picture will change again, with implications for how businesses must speak to male and female consumers. This is one to keep your eye on.