Guys, Beware: When You Touch a Bra, You Spend More

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—According to a July news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women only make about 82% of men's median wages, but they're better with money. According to a recent survey by Experian, men compared to women:

  • Have 4.3% more debt
  • Have a 2% higher credit utilization amount
  • Have mortgage loans that are 4.9% higher
  • Are 7% more likely to be late on mortgage payments

It's evident men are spending more money than women—but on what and why?

Status objects

According to some experts, men still see purchases as status symbols, but what they buy is changing.

 

Matthew Ong, a retail analyst at Nerd Wallet, says Millennial males spend "significantly more" on alcohol, clothes and entertainment than their parents, because those things "have become more integral as status symbols for Millennial men than ever before." And while they spend less on cars, young males spend more on expensive vacations and new technology.

Ong believes as young men migrate to cities, they have less reason to buy a car—once the king of status objects—and end up buying status symbols like Apple products, luxury trips or designer wear. "Millennial men invest more time and effort in fashion [than their parents did]," says Ong.

When it comes to pricey threads, a recent Nielsen Company study backs Ong up. The study, which surveyed 29,000 people from 58 countries, found 51% of men were more likely to buy designer brands, compared to 43% of women. Nielsen also found men were 7% more likely than women to pay more for designer brands.

Getting a Date

Guys are also spending more time unmarried—the median age of first marriage for men in 2010 was 28.7, according to the Pew Research Center –a time of life where it's typical to spend lots of money on entertainment. With less emphasis on settling down for marriage, men have more time to date. And when men are looking to find a mate, research shows they spend more money - consciously and subconsciously.

"An important reason why men want expensive products is to display [them] and become more attractive to women," says Vladas Griskevicius, associate professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota and expert on conspicuous consumption. Griskevicius likened it to an evolved form of primitive combat, where instead of "punching out the other guy, you're trying to outspend him."

In Griskevicius's paper "The Financial Consequences of Too Many Men: Sex Ratio Effects on Saving, Borrowing," published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, studies revealed if there's a lack of women in their local area, men spend more and save less, using their immediate money to acquire a mate as fast as possible by displaying wealth.

Several studies were conducted in the research. In one, participants read news articles that described their local demographic as having more women or men. Then participants were asked how much they would save and how much they would put on credit cards each month. Results showed men were 42% less likely to save and 84% more likely to borrow money when women were scarce; women were unaffected.

In another study, participants viewed a series of photos with more or fewer women. Participants were then asked if they would like a small amount of money immediately or a larger amount in a month. Results showed men who viewed photos with few women were much more likely to devalue saving by taking the smaller, immediate amount. Again, women were unaffected.

"Guys aren't even aware this is happening," says Griskevicius.

Other research has shown men can be triggered to spend impulsively after being titillated—and it apparently doesn't take much. In a paper titled "Bikinis Instigate Generalized Impatience in Intemporal Choice," authors Margo Wilson and Martin Daly found a pool of 42 male participants, aged 18 to 28, would rather have less money immediately than more money later after simply touching a bra (as opposed to a T-shirt). "After exposure to sexual cues, men have a heightened preference for immediately available rewards over larger and delayed monetary rewards," wrote Wilson and Daly.

Changing the habit

For men who'd rather not empty their bank accounts to impress their colleagues and score dates, the best option might be learning to shop like women.

The Nielsen Company study says men are "goal-oriented shoppers" who are "on a mission, and they shop to win or complete a goal." So while men are more likely to run into the department store and run out without sticking around and comparing prices, they should take a hint from the fairer sex: Women are "more likely to shop around and look for deals," according to the study.

Women also have more impulse control. According to Wilson and Daly, women were negligibly more likely to spend more and save later after viewing attractive men. That might be why attractive women are everywhere in ads targeting men, but male models aren't nearly as prevalent in advertising—the trick just doesn't seem to work on females. Control the urge to buy, guys, especially products you didn't know you needed until you saw the advertisement.

And here's an odd way guys shouldn't be fooled into spending more money: not being tricked by red price tags. Research published in June's Journal of Retailing suggests men believe red price tags offered a bigger savings—up to 85% better—than black and white tags, at least when they were only kind of paying attention and had little interest in the item at hand. It was only when men were forced to invest that they stopped assuming they were receiving a good deal. Women, meanwhile, were unaffected by the marketing trick.

--Written by Craig Donofrio for MainStreet

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