Distributional Patterns of Consumer Expenditure Tested in Two Cultures: How Men and Women Expect From Each Other


X.T. Wang (2002) ,"Distributional Patterns of Consumer Expenditure Tested in Two Cultures: How Men and Women Expect From Each Other", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 221.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Page 221


X.T. Wang, University of South Dakota, U.S.A.

This study takes an evolutionary approach to the distribution of consumer expenditures. From an evolutionary perspective, natural selection should have equipped both men and women with a kinship rule for investment distribution while sexual selection should have entailed a higher expectation for the amount of investment from a man than from a woman (e.g., Buss, 1994; Hamilton, 1964). Gender-specific expectations should influence real consumer behaviors of both men and women.

In a social network, personal qualities are often assessed against a reference group. To say "John is quite generous" is to say "John is quite above the average generosity of his reference group". It is hypothesized that the expected consumer behavior of a typical man or woman, as a result of sexual selection, differs in the eyes of beholders of different sexes. The study examines how men and women estimate each other’s investment distributions. In a hypothetical task, we asked participants to estimate what a typical man or woman of a reference group would investment a certain amount of money among a list of possible beneficiaries. The study had a 2 (gender of the participants: M or W) by 2 (gender of an imagined prototypical consumer: m or w) between-subjects design. Using the same-sex estimates as a benchmark, we compared a prototypical woman estimated by men (Mw) against a prototypical woman estimated by women themselves (Ww), and a prototypical man estimated by women (Wm) against a prototypical man estimated by men themselves (Mm).

(1) We predicted from a natural selection viewpoint that the estimated amount of investment would be directly proportional to the relatedness between the hypotheical investor and the recipients.

(2) As a female-preference driven process (i.e., males court and females choose), sexual selection may have forged a pact between men and women which requires men to invest more in their mates than do women. Thus, it is predicted that a prototypical man would be expected by both men and women to give more of his money to others and to his mate than a prototypical woman of the same age cohort. In addition, this female preference for generous male consumers should lead to a higher expectation than what men really achieve. Thus, we predicted a discrepancy between an estimated and real investment pattern of men.

(3) It would be more important for women to accurately detect such a discrepancy given the assumption that the external resources provided by a potential mate have been pivotal for female’s reproductive success. Thus, women would be more accurate in estimating men’s distribution of expenditures than men estimating women’s distribution of expenditures.

(4) Cultural differences may exist in the ways of adjusting expenditure distribution in different social networks. It was argued that Chinese culture compared to US culture involves a more complex personal and social network (GuanXi) and places more emphasis on collectivism than individualism. These cultural features in Chinese social networking may reduce the aforementioned discrepancy between estimated and real investment pattern of men.

Two studies were conducted at the University of South Dakota in the United States and at Peking University in P.R. China. One hundred ninety one student-volunteers participated in the US study and 130 students participated in the Chinese study.

In both the US study and Chinese study, (1) the distribution of expenditures closely matched the genetic relatedness between the decision-maker and the hypothetical recipients. Chinese participants, however, allocated more to elder kin than did American participants, reflecting a collectivism orientation. The ratio between the amount allocated to older kin (Grandparents + Parents + Uncles and Aunts) and the amount allocated to younger kin (Sibling + Cousins + Nephews and Nieces) was significantly higher for Chinese participants than American participants.

(2) In the US study, both men and women expected that a typical man would be more generous than a typical woman [(Mm + Wm)>(Ww + Mw)]. However, conversely, the overall amount of allocation to others imagined by men was less generous than that by women [(Mm + Mw)<(Ww + Wm)]. This discrepancy may be reviewed as a pattern of female-preference-driven consumer behavior where male consumers are expected to invest more in their female partners and family members than they actually do.

A similar but reduced discrepancy was found in the Chinese study. A prototypical man was expected to allocate more than a woman to his mate [(Mm + Wm)>(Ww + Mw)], but in fact men and women invest a similar amount in their mates [(Mm + Mw)=(Ww + Wm)]. The reduced discrepancy between female desired and real male investment should reduce the intensity of possible conflicts in Chinese families.

(3) American women indicated that they would distribute their money among a greater number of individual beneficiaries than did the American men. This result is consistent with the finding reported by Judge (1995), in her analysis of property allocation testaments probated between 1890 and 1984 in Sacramento County, California.

In contrast, Chinese men and women had a similar distributional scope (i.e., the number of beneficiaries).

(4) In the American study, women were more accurate in estimating men’s investment distribution (Wm=Mm) than did men estimate women’s investment distribution (Mw Ww). However, this gender difference in estimation accuracy was not found in Chinese participants (Wm=Mm and Mw=Ww).

The above cultural difference in investment scope and in estimation accuracy may be related to behavioral adjustments needed to function within a larger and more personal GuanXi network among Chinese.

(5) onsistent with GuanXi hypothesis, Chinese men gave more to the same-sex friends than did Chinese women, and the amount was significantly higher than the amount estimated by the women participants. The result suggests a gender difference in consumer values of male-male reciprocal exchanges in Chinese culture.

Overall, the observed gender and cultural similarities and discrepancies in estimating expenditure distributions help us analyze the dynamics of consumer behavior in social and cultural contexts.


Buss, D. (1994). The strategies of human mating. American Scientist, 82, 238-249.

Hamilton, W. D. (1964). The genetical evolution of social behaviour. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 7, 1-52.

Judge, D. S. (1995). American legacies and the variable life histories of women and men. Human Nature, 6, 291-323.



X.T. Wang, University of South Dakota, U.S.A.


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002

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