Battle for the thermostat: energy efficiency and gender (Podcast)


There is a significant difference in perception of indoor thermal comfort between men and women, with men demonstrating a strong preference lower temperatures than women, sometimes referred to as the ‘battle of the thermostat’. Research discussed in this episode shows that there is also a notable impact on productivity and cognitive performance, with women performing better at high temperatures than at low temperatures. At the same time in most modern office space, the settings for the indoor temperature are based on the physical characteristics of male occupants.

Key message:

Gender-specific responses of occupants to the indoor temperature should be taken into account, when designing temperature settings for gender mixed workplaces in order to increase productivity by setting the thermostat higher than current standards.


[00:00:04.140] – [00:00:04.270]Aristeidis Tsakiris
Hello and welcome to the podcast series Scaling Up Energy Efficiency. This is episode two and today’s topic is “Battle for the thermostat: Energy efficiency and gender. We are broadcasting from Copenhagen. One of the greenest cities in the world with plans to be carbon neutral by 2025. My name is Aristeidis and I work as a program officer at the Copenhagen Energy Efficiency, a part of the UNEP DTU Partnership.

[00:00:36.300]Aristeidis Tsakiris
So without further ado here is your host Ksenia Petrichenko senior advisor who will moderate today’s podcast.

[00:00:44.400]Ksenia Petrichenko
Welcome to Scaling Up Energy Efficiency podcast. My name is Ksenia Petrichenko and I’m a senior advisor at the Copenhagen Center on Energy Efficiency. In this podcast series we’re discussing different topics in the field of energy efficiency with a particular focus on how we can bring scale to energy efficiency efforts. Today we will have a conversation with our guest Agne Kajackaite about the connection between gender and indoor thermal comfort and its implications on energy consumption in buildings.

[00:01:16.190]Agne Kajackaite
Agne is a behavioral economist and head of research group ethics and behavioral economics at the Berlin Social Science Center. She has received her PhD from the University of Cologne and before joining the Berlin social centre in 2017 she was a post doc at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. In her research she aims to understand unethical behavior particular line behavior by conducting economic lab experiments. Further topics in her research are cognitive performance, gender incentives and risk preferences and ignorance. Her research on the effect of temperature on cognitive performance was covered by the New York Times, The Time, The Guardian, The Atlantic and The Washington Post among others.

[00:02:10.350]Ksenia Petrichenko
Hi Agne. It’s really great to have you here with us on this episode of podcast.

[00:02:16.530] Agne Kajackaite
Hi Ksenia

[00:02:16.910]Ksenia Petrichenko
Hi, and we’re really looking forward to talk a little bit about your truly fascinating research. So thank you very much for finding the time to join us.

[00:02:28.410]Agne Kajackaite
Thank you for having me.

[00:02:29.240]Ksenia Petrichenko
In your paper which you co-authored together with Tom Chang which will mainly be focusing on today. It is titled battle for the thermostat and gender and the effect of temperature on cognitive performance. Could you please tell us a little bit more about it and what does this battle actually mean. Who participates in it and why is it happening.

[00:02:53.870]Agne Kajackaite
So the battle is happening between genders, males and females who are fighting about the temperature in the office. This a very old war we all probably have experience that we know that woman like warmer temperatures, man like colder temperatures. It’s based on our bodies on an on the metabolic rate hormones and so on and there have been many surveys showing that women really prefer higher temperatures. So if you ask them they will name you much higher temperatures they would like to have in the office or in the classroom than men. And as you said it’s a battle so people are really fight about this in the office. You know there is some war happening like in the US when I was living there. There were some colleagues who would bring like foot heaters to the office you know female colleagues that would have them under the desk heating up the room while the A/C is on and there is like 19 Celsius in the office. So there is this war happening and we know that the comfort levels are different of man woman that woman like it’s warmer. The question we were asking in this study Tom Chang and I was. Is it only about to come forth or does it also affect the performance? And this is what we did we just change at temperatures in the room and looked at how it affects. The congitive performance of men and women. So this is the study.

[00:04:15.720]Ksenia Petrichenko
That sounds very very interesting and indeed I was reading way before I got to know you and your research about exactly the same problem. And also I think it refers as a jacket problem or something like that that you know men have a slightly different dress code on top of that that usually men are wearing much heavier clothes when it’s a formal setting. And women usually have preference especially if it’s summertime or lie to clothing and when they come in the same room indoors obviously the room temperature is usually set for people for men with suits and ties and we as women end up freezing a little bit. So I was very curious actually to hear more about effects of temperature on productivity and cognitive performance and could you tell us a little bit more about the methods you used to the experiments which you did the participants and how how you actually came to designing this study on cognitive performance between men and women.

[00:05:26.590]Agne Kajackaite
Sure. So Tom I have your both behavioral economists and what we do in our lives is running experiments on people in controlled environments. So we mostly run experiments in the lab in the behavioral econ lab which doesn’t really look like a lab that people imagine is actually a room with many cubicles and computers inside those cubicles. So we conduct this experiment in the Berlin behavioral economics lab here in Berlin and 2017 and the end of 2017. And we have people coming to the lab and participating in these simple tests. So the temperatures are easy to vary and on in the room. So we had temperatures between 16 Celsius and 33 Celsius and none of the participants was exposed to more temperatures than one. So if it came to the session a little like the first session you had 16 Celsius somebody else had 27 Celsius somebody else had 30 and so on. And we looked at how does difference of temperatures affects. The test solving. The were test very very simple. There were three different tasks. So the first task was a math task. Which is adding up numbers in your head. So without using calculator they had five numbers that were two digits and they had to add them up and there were 50 of these problem sets and they were asked to solve as many as they can in five minutes. And again as behavioral economists we incentivize decisions we incentivize performance. So we paid for each task that they solve so that they’re motivated they’re incentivized to work. So this is the math task and the robot task we ask them to build woards out of letters. So there are 10 letters some random letters you know all of them had the same ones and they were asked to build words of different lenght Oh they all have to be different. So and the more you build the more money you get. So it’s like a creativity task a verbal task. And the third task was a logic task. So they had three questions. It’s called psychology cognitive reflection test is pretty standard actually. So it measures kind of intelligence but not only it also measures how much you base your answer on intuition or how much you reflect actually on the answer. So those three questions they’re all tricky if you don’t reflect it will lead you to wrong answer. If you reflect it will lead you at some point to the right answer. And so they had all this tests. The participants were students in Berlin so they sign up for experiments in the online database. So they’re all like volunteers who want to come to experiments. We randomly pick them. And we had over 540 people participate in this experiment.

[00:08:12.680]Ksenia Petrichenko
Wow that’s a great sample of people so I presume the we can assume that the results are reflecting the reality. And you mentioned different tasks which you were looking at. Is there a difference in performance between men and women in different tasks depending on the temperature. So the the nature of the task is affected by the temperature in the room as well or what. Why did you come up with the results?

[00:08:44.950]Agne Kajackaite
Exactly so are our interest was to see how men and women performing these tasks. This was the main variable. How does the gender affect that? And what we saw was that women are disadvantaged in lower temperatures so that they perform much worse than men. Women increase the temperatures the gender gap disappears and women even take over the men. So what we saw was the following in the math task when we have like 16 Celsius we see that women are solving so much fewer math test than men. So they solved like only eight and men solved like 12 on average something like this. So the difference pretty high when we increase the temperature and move on and all like to find ourselves is twenty five and so on. The gender gap gets smaller and smaller at some point even disappear. So man woman become the same in that math test to put the numbers the numbers the following. So women where 1.76 percent better with each Celsius increase so one Celsius increase in temperature increase performance at one point seventy six percent. And this is a highly significant result for men on the other hand higher temperatures where leading to worst performance but only a little bit. So they became zero point six percent worse with each Celsius increase. And this is not even statistically significant. So what we see is women are becoming significantly better or the temperature range and men are becoming slightly worse in the verbal task. We see a very similar effect a bit smaller though so in the individual task women are becoming one point all three percent better with each Celsius increase. And men are again becoming zero point six percent worse. So again we see the effect a woman has significance for men is not significant. And they are opposite in the logic task. We found no gender and temperature interaction. What we saw was that no matter the average temperature we had men who were outperforming women in this task. Some man were solving around two point two tasks out of three and the women are solving around one point eight task out of the three. However that doesn’t say that you know nothing about intelligence levels. It’s more about. As I said it’s a cognitive reflection test. It does correlate intelligence with mostly shows is how much we rely on our intuition when making a decision and there’s a lot of other evidence also showing the woman are more likely to rely on intuition and met with the result.

[00:11:22.930]Ksenia Petrichenko
I find this results extremely fascinating. So basically your research clearly shows how temperature is more important at least the lower temperature is more has more impact on female performance than the male performance. So actually we are sort of as women we’re being discriminated in the office environment when we are more exposed to lower temperature because on one hand our productivity decrease is much more significantly. And on the other hand if we as we’re speaking about energy efficiency we are consuming more energy for cooling this space and it doesn’t actually have the benefits we are expecting and actually has more disadvantages if we have more females in the workplace. So this is extremely interesting and of course my next my my next question would be in our present realities in the commercial building in the offices we still have. I would say lower temperature than probably most women would prefer. And I’m wondering where is it coming from and why it is like that and what do you think how we can improve the situation.

[00:12:43.250]Agne Kajackaite
Yes so this is going from the 60s so the wrong temperature standards. Kind of reset then based on a middle aged man In a suit. So even like he’s like waiting around 80 kilograms and he’s around 50 years old and he is wearing a suit. And then he is enjoying around like 19 or 20 Celsius. However this is not how the offices look like the days in the 60s. Of course women had fewer rights and women were not so present in the office. Now we have a different different composition of gender in the office and this has to be taken into account. So yeah it’s not like this that is unlike about saying which temperature is perfect. It’s more about saying that temperature really affects productivity and really showed up. And I think the next step what should be happening is listening to your employees to what they actually prefer. If you see that you know half of the office is covered under the blankets and that’s very often the case at least in the United States. If you see this happening that’s a clear sign. You mean that’s just them part you’re right and it’s not. It shouldn’t say like suck it up. This is what I was hearing when I would say it’s the call. It’s like it’s your problem. Dress up. No this is not how it should be handled. It should be. Look at this. And you know in more detail. And and it should be clear that the thermostat affects performance. And. Yeah. But the building’s efficiency exactly what you’re saying. You know like if if you have like 18 Celsius in the office in Los Angeles it’s not coming from outside. That’s coming from the cooler in there. If it’s coming from the AC it consumes lots of energy. And at the same time is likely decreasing the productivity so it doesn’t make any sense and it should be adjusted. Finally it’s 2019. So yeah.

[00:14:31.750]Ksenia Petrichenko
I totally agree. You mentioned Los Angeles. I still remember when I was in the meeting in Singapore and I find the most effect at least on me personally happens when there is a big difference between outdoor and indoor temperature. So in Singapore it was above 30 degrees outside and the meeting was set at 18 degrees Celsius. And of course people with the suits and the long sleeves were much more advantages. I couldn’t focus of that meeting for sure but it is very interesting what you mentioned that those guidelines and those set points coming back from 60s where obviously the office and workspace much more male dominant and now probably we have more and more of women maybe even in some cases more than 50 percent of women in the workplace. So definitely something needs to be adjusted here and I’m wondering what can be the ways to do that. You mentioned one is looking at the employees and how they behave in the workspace and adjusting the thermostat accordingly. It’s the central building thermostat or if it’s office by office settings. Another approach I’m thinking about is as we’re entering this era of smart technologies and smart metering and smart devices which are constantly monitoring us and what we’re doing online. I’m wondering if it would be the way to measure maybe the the rate of metabolism and skin temperature or other parameters which are important for determining the optimal temperature of individual and aggregating this data on maybe the office level and sending the data to the thermostat to adjust accordingly. Do you know any studies like that or any experiments which. Which would allow this kind of approach or what do you think about?

[00:16:39.100]Agne Kajackaite
Yeah. So they approach some very advanced it sounds great. Anybody doing anything like this. It would make sense you know to just delay exactly the average. But it’s I think it’s like many steps. Farther in the future than what we have now. I think step number one is just start listening to the people. Step number two is like getting rid of this crazy ac I mean I don’t know who prefer 16 in the office. I think this is crazy and this is easy and easily adjustable. Other thing which is super easy would be making the rules of clothing in the office less conservative as you were saying you know man in suits women are in dresses. And many environments there is no need to have a certain line then I have a meeting with a client that they I don’t see any reason for wearing a suit but still many offices have this rule you know like they have this rule like no t shirts no shorts but I mean if you’re not meeting anybody that day it doesn’t make sense to be dressed like this. So this is like the very very easy adjustment and this would just go with the guy you don’t changing the guy and lets of the closing in the office. This is like the easiest one. And then after this is done after people started listening to them all these other people are not so conservative for the clothing in the office. Then the next step would be as you say like optimizing optimizing the temperature according to people’s preferences you know according to their body body you know metabolic rate. And I think this is like many steps. After the super super simple steps that my thumb.So yeah.

[00:18:13.830]Ksenia Petrichenko
I think your point about the dress code and clothing is very important and you minute now I’m remembering in Japan after Fukushima happened then the country enforced very strict regime of energy saving one of the key or very important ways to reduce energy consumption in at least in the office buildings was to to ban wearing the suits and formal heavy clothing during summer. And they managed to save a substantial amount of energy. So definitely with that measure and take into account your research results seriously I imagine we can save a lot of energy on the global basis especially taking to account that about one third of global energy consumption happens in residential and office buildings and probably about 80 percent of that is behavior dependent. So exactly depending on the dress code on personal preferences on agreeing on high temperature in summer and maybe agreeing a lower temperature in heavier clothing in winter can really can really make a difference at the global scale.

[00:19:30.780]Agne Kajackaite
Sure and those are super like they’re like you know low hanging fruits. So it’s very easily digestible.

[00:19:37.480]Ksenia Petrichenko
Yeah it is. It’s very interesting to be part of this global energy efficiency community where we’re talking about complicated energy efficiency decisions and measures and we’re still not capturing very low hanging fruit as you mentioned which would be very easy fix like the change in clothing or change in your thermostat settings to make people’s life also better and performance higher. Ok Agne. Thank you very much. I think we covered most of your paper and in great detail and I’m sure we can keep talking for longer. Would you. Would you like to make any final comments or any any any more details to the subject we are discussing today before we wrap up.

[00:20:28.530]Agne Kajackaite
Well to the subject I’m not sure. I am just like I hope there will be more studies looking at that and that people will start taking this seriously.I mean I already have friends who ask me to send their original study and they will go to the offices you know to the managers asking to change the temperature and also given how much attention the study received in the world. So as you said at the beginning it was covered everywhere. I mean there were like articles in over 60 countries in this world. It shows how important this topic is. And I really hope that. It will have some application in the offices and that there will be more research backing this up and that some change will happen because we are already talking about it. That’s good. So we started looking now. I hope the action will come in.

[00:21:13.140]Ksenia Petrichenko
That sounds great and they definitely share your hopes on that. I feel a little bit more privileged than most of the women out there in the office space because I’m sitting here in Copenhagen in the UN City building and it’s smart building and we have opportunity to adjust temperature online inside each individual office. So we definitely can make sure that women are not freezing if they can at least agree with their office mates on higher temperatures.

[00:21:43.070]Ksenia Petrichenko
Thank you very much for your very fascinating research and I hope we also bring a little bit more attention to the topic with this episode. We will post this episode online on our Copenhagen Center Web site. And we’ll also make sure that people have access to your very interesting publication. And we were happy to have you here. And good luck with your further research. Thank you very much for being with us today.

[00:22:18.310]Aristeidis Tsakiris
Thank you for listening to the podcast “Battle for the thermostat: energy efficiency and gender” with Ksenia Petrichenko and Agne Kajackaite. If you like our show share it on your social network and if you want to know more about today’s topic check our webpage Stay tuned and subscribe to receive notification about our next podcast. See you at the next episode and do not forget “Energy efficiency is a journey, not a destination”. Cheers.

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Sector: Buildings

Country / Region: Global

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In 1 user collection: C2E2 Podcasts

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Published by: Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency

Publishing year: 2019

Author: Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency

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Agne Kajackaite

Head of Research Group "Ethics and Behavioral Economics" at Berlin Social Center