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The science behind the air-con war: why men and women can't agree on the same room temperature

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Regulating the office temperature can be a minefield. Too warm and one half of the room is forced to swelter over the keyboard, too cold and the rest are left shivering at their screens.

But as we all know, striking a balance is never simple.

Last year, researchers found that gender politics played a huge role in controlling thermostats, with most office temperatures being set according to a decades-old algorithm based on male resting metabolic rates, despite the majority of workplaces now being very mixed.

The researchers found that generally, women found this setting too cold—hence the deskside scarves and blankets—and actually need an environment that’s around 3°C warmer to be comfortable.

Now, more research has come to light explaining just why exactly this is the case. And apparently, it’s all to do with skin and muscle.

In a discussion piece for theconversation.com, Adam Taylor, Director of the Clinical Anatomy Learning Centre & Senior Lecturer in Anatomy, Lancaster University, explains that there’s a fundamental difference in skin thickness between men and women.

But while women tend to have larger areas of thicker skin compared with men, largely thanks to the different ways in which fat is stored between males and females (we tend to have more 'subcutaneous fat' beneath our skin), this doesn’t actually guarantee us any increase in insulation.


Read more: Scientists say office temperatures are based on a decades old formula devised for men 


Close, but no cigar. Why?

Because regulating body temperature also has a lot to do with muscle mass, according to Taylor, as well as the body's metabolic rate when at rest, which is known to be higher among men than women.

Man in warm office

Since the body’s natural reaction to coldness is to shiver, a process during which the muscles contract and ‘vibrate’ involuntarily to create heat within the body, the more muscle you have, the higher your body temperature will be.

Of course, on average, men tend to have higher amounts of muscle compared with women, which rather handily (for them) will also generate heat when at rest, i.e. not shivering.

But here’s the kicker; that thicker skin we have? Which, logically speaking, should be keeping us warmer? Well it may actually be the reason women often take longer to warm up during a cold blast, compared with men.


Read more: The new work rules that are proven to create a happier and more harmonious office 


“If you consider the basic distribution of subcutaneous fat, the female body should maintain warmth better than the male, but this doesn’t seem to be the case,” writes Taylor.

“When you take into consideration skin thickness, subcutaneous fat thickness and muscle mass, it becomes clear that although female muscles shiver the same as those in the male, their thicker insulating layer potentially means that the heat generated takes longer to get through to the outer layers of the skin, where the temperature-sensing free nerve endings are located.”

Yep, even if you have managed to generate body heat yourself, it'll be trapped inside for a fair while. Here’s to the female body’s subcutaneous fat layer, eh?

Better keep that desk scarf handy.

 

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