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Lost in the Supermarket: Men Without Lists

Men are shopping more, but women still make the grocery decisions.

WebMD Feature

What's the worst thing a woman can tell a man?

 

If it's a healthy, economical meal she wants, "Get something for dinner on the way home" can be a recipe for disaster.

 

Why? In most families -- even those in which men buy the groceries -- women still make the shopping decisions. Without a list, men get lost in today's fast-paced supermarkets, says David W. Stewart, the Robert E. Brooker Professor of Marketing the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

 

"More and more men are picking up items at the grocery store," Stewart tells WebMD. "But they are frequently following the instructions of the female in the household. Traditionally, the woman was the decision maker and shopper. Now the female is still the primary decision maker, but the shopping is more often shared by two individuals."

Men and Women in the Grocery Aisles

More and more men have been doing more and more grocery shopping. It's not a new trend, says David Mick, PhD, professor of marketing at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce and president-elect of the Association for Consumer Research.

 

"There is no doubt that men's and women's shopping roles have changed," Mick tells WebMD. "Men are more often going into grocery stores and buying categories of things they would not have bought a generation ago. It has been going on for the last 20 years, and has been steadily rising."

 

More than half of men say they do 60% or more of their family's grocery shopping. The numbers don't exactly add up: More than 85% of women say they do most of their family's shopping. Still, a lot of men are pushing fleets of shopping carts through many miles of grocery aisles.

 

And yes, Stewart admits, more men than ever before are making the decisions on which groceries to buy.

 

"But that is a much more modest phenomenon than the rising trend of the female giving the male a list -- complete with brand names to buy," he says.

 

What about the "Mars/Venus" stereotypes? Aren't men the brave hunters who plunge into the wild aisles to emerge triumphant with exactly what they came for? Aren't women the nurturing gatherers who patiently browse for nourishment?

 

"Yes, it's true that men tend to go after specific grocery items while women are more likely to browse," Stewart notes. "But it is not that males are more decisive. They are basically following orders."

 

"Men and women probably do shop a bit differently in grocery stores on average," Mick agrees. "Women probably are less dominated by a top-down, purposive approach to shopping. They probably would be a little more exploratory. ... Women in many families are probably still expected to be the primary procurer of goods for the household. You might say it serves them in that role to have a wider radar of what is in the store and what is good for the household."

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