If you’re a woman, you may feel like you need cozy slippers and a warm sweater to be comfortable in your home — even when the thermostat is set to be reasonably warm. If you’re a man, you may not understand why your female family members or roommates always want to crank the temperature higher than you think it needs to be.
And let’s not forget about the office wars. Why does it seem like the women in your place of business want the environment to be warmer than the men do?
“Women are always cold” is a common cliché of winter, but it turns out that there is some truth to the idea that men are generally the warmer gender. Here’s the science behind why women are often cold.
Natural Body Temperature Differences
Most people don’t know that men and women have slightly different body core temperatures. Women are generally about 0.4°F warmer in their core than men are — which doesn’t make sense when women often complain more about being cold. But interestingly, women’s hands are about 2.8°F colder than men’s are. If you have ever had really cold hands and feet that wouldn’t warm up, you may understand how this impacts your entire body.
Why does this happen? Medical researchers aren’t entirely sure, but it probably has something to do with a minor difference in how the blood vessels to the hands and feet constrict. A woman’s blood vessels constrict faster and further than those of a man when exposed to cold; this causes her hands and feet to become colder more rapidly. This could be related to muscle mass — men tend to have more — or to hormone levels.
Another possible factor is connected to Raynaud’s disease, a condition where the blood vessels in the hands and feet temporarily narrow or collapse under physical or emotionalstress. Women are as much as five times more likely to have Raynaud’s. The reason why women are more frequently afflicted with Raynaud’s — which is unknown — may have some correlation to why they have colder hands and feet.
Body temperature can also differ because men and women have different resting metabolism rates, meaning that men burn more calories and therefore produce more body heat than women do.
Body Fat Composition Differences
Body composition may play a big role in why women are colder. In general, women have more body fat than men do; men have more muscle tissue. It’s true that muscle is good at generating heat, but fat is better at holding it in.
But let’s look at where body fat tends to be higher — around the core and the internal organs. Even women who are not visibly fat will have a higher percentage of body fat in this area, which holds in heat while the extremities get cooler. This difference in temperature between the core and the hands or feet makes it seem colder and may make it more difficult to get comfortable at a lower room temperature.
The combination of more muscle tissue and higher metabolism means that men are capable of expending heat at a faster and more even rate. This allows their bodies to be overall more comfortable at a lower room temperature.
However, this may be simply attributable to the typical difference in size between men and women. One study found that men and women of similar size and body fat percentage experienced similar rates of temperature drop after being submerged in cold water.
So if your family or office mates are the same size, you may all be fine with a similar thermostat setting. But when men and women are different sizes, women may feel colder than men at the same temperature. All things equal, a larger person or animal will gain and lose heat more slowly than a smaller one.
Increased Hormone Levels in Women
Hormone fluctuations in women are another reason why they may be colder than men. Women have a natural menstrual cycle that causes jumps and dips in hormone production throughout the month. As hormone production spikes, women may actually have a higher body temperature.
As well, women who take hormonal birth control have a higher core temperature than women who do not. And women who are pregnant have higher hormone levels and will typically feel warmer; in fact, many women get hot flashes or overheat easily during pregnancy.
Men, on the other hand, have more steady, consistent hormone production and they don’t see the same impacts on body temperature.
Another hormonal factor: cortisol. Both men and women produce cortisol, otherwise known as your “fight” hormone. It can keep you warm and make your adrenaline spike; you produce more when under stress. Men and women both produce less cortisol in the evening, but women’s levels can drop more than men’s do, leading to increased chill at night.
Finally, thyroid hormone deficiencies can make you feel colder, and women have much more likelihood of developing hypothyroidism, especially as they get older.
Where Should the Thermostat Be Set?
What’s the answer to creating an environment at home or in the office that accommodates everyone, male or female? There may not be one good solution to the problem of women feeling colder.
One study found that traditional calculations for office temperature only used metabolic rates for men, potentially leading to heat settings that favor males. Women reported being most comfortable at 75 degrees, but the typical office is usually 70 degrees. If that’s your regular setting for home or office, try turning the heat up 2 or 3 degrees as a compromise.
Another issue that has an impact on body temperature is dress. In office settings, for example, many men wear suits that keep them warmer, while women wear blouses or shirts that are not as thick. In this case, relaxing the requirement for men to wear jackets and ties and raising the temp slightly may be the answer. Otherwise, women may have to stick to putting on sweaters and jackets to stay comfortable.