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Why women secretly turn up the heating

radiator woman
The heat is on … a woman turns up her heating. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Forget negotiations over who takes out the bin, new research suggests that the ideal home temperature is the vexed question most likely to split households down gender lines.

A study found that one third of couples dispute this issue and that four in 10 women covertly turn up the heating behind their partner’s back.

The research, which was sponsored by Corgi Homeplan, a company that installs and maintains boilers and thermostats, probably falls short of the rigours of peer-reviewed science. However, there is strong evidence to back up the idea that women are more sensitive to the cold. A 2015 study by Dutch scientists, for instance, found that women are comfortable at a temperature 2.5C warmer than men, typically between 24-25C.

Men and women have roughly the same core body temperature, at over 37C; in fact, some studies have found the female core body temperature is slightly higher. However, our perception of temperature depends more on skin temperature, which, for women, tends to be lower. One study reported that the average temperature of women’s hands exposed to cold was nearly 3C degrees lower than that observed in men.

The female hormone oestrogen contributes to this because it slightly thickens the blood, reducing the flow to capillaries that supply the body’s extremities. This means that, in women, blood flow to the tips of fingers and toes tends to shut off more readily when it is cold. Research has shown that women tend to feel colder around ovulation, when estrogen levels are high.

The body’s metabolism also plays a role, as this dictates how quickly heat energy is produced and on average, women have a lower metabolic rate than men. In simple terms, higher muscle mass tends to translate to higher resting metabolism, which is linked to burning more calories and higher blood flow, both of which help keep the extremities warm.

Recent research also shows there is a degree of subjectivity in how cold we feel, after demonstrating a phenomenon called “cold contagion”. For couples, perhaps this offers some hope that their temperature preferences will eventually fall into some sort of alignment.

This article titled "Why women secretly turn up the heating" was written by Hannah Devlin, for The Guardian on Wednesday 11 October 2017 04.02pm

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