Men are literally freezing women out of the workplace

It’s not just you.
It’s not just you.
Image: Reuters/Jon Nazca
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It may be the dead of summer in the northern hemisphere right now, but the must-have clothing item for white collar women isn’t a breezy blouse and matching culottes. It’s a desk blanket. Female office workers around the world brace for hot weather by bundling up—even as their male colleagues type away in shirtsleeves.

There’s a simple reason: Office temperatures are designed for men.

A new study confirms that women’s body temperatures are much lower than the standard used to set air-conditioning levels, making women much more prone to feeling uncomfortably cold. The study was published online in Nature Climate Change (paywall).

Though the new research is based on a small sample size of 16 women, it replicates previous findings. One study found that the standard metabolic rate used to set office temperatures is as much as 35% higher than the average female metabolic rate.

Others have shown that women feel comfortable with room temperatures of around 77°F, compared with men’s preference for less than 72°F. For comparison, the US government recommends office temperatures be between 69°F and 73°F (20.5°C to 22.8°C).

The discrepancy dates back to the 1960s and ’70s, when scientists and regulators set workplace indoor climate standards based on the metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man weighing 70 kilograms (154 pounds). Women, however, tend to have lower metabolic rates. That means the steady blast of Arctic air conditioning that keeps the average guy comfortable is likely to send women swaddling themselves in cardigans and thermal socks.

Ending the AC double standard would also have other benefits. Homes and offices generate as much as 30% of total carbon dioxide emissions, say the authors of the new study, Boris Kingma and Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt of Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Adjusting cooling levels to account for women’s comfort could dramatically slash energy consumption. (It should be noted that the study was funded by advocates for renewable energy.)

Thawing out women office workers, in other words, might keep the planet from warming quite so quickly.