At times of crisis women are more inclined to spend themselves out of misery than at stable times, a new survey suggests. Psychologists say that the recession could force more women to overspend or increase their risk of mental illness.
A survey conducted by Professor Karen Pine, from the University of Hertfordshire and author of Sheconomics, to be released on 21 May 2009 found that 79% of women said they would go on a spending spree to cheer themselves up. Professor Pine’s research concludes that some women use shopping as an emotion regulator, a way of anesthetising themselves to negative feelings or dissatisfaction with life. So worrying about money could, paradoxically, lead women to spend more.
Of the 700 women surveyed, four out of ten named ‘depression’, and six out of ten named ‘feeling a bit low’, as reasons to go on a spending spree and overspend. Women commonly expressed the view that shopping has the power to make them feel better.
Professor Pine’s research found that an intense emotional state, high or low, could send women to the shops. “This type of spending, or compensatory consumption, serves as a way of regulating intense emotions,” she said.
This ability to regulate emotions is crucial for mental and physical wellbeing and humans adopt a variety of means of doing so, including drugs and alcohol. Shopping is one method increasingly adopted by women.
“If shopping is an emotional habit for women they may feel the need to keep spending despite the economic downturn,” said Professor Pine. “Or, perhaps worse still, if they can’t spend we might see an increase in mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.”
Not all the women in the survey felt cheered up by the shopping experience. One in four had experienced feelings of regret, guilt or shame after buying something in the week prior to the survey. And seven out of ten women had worried about money during the same period. Yet if these women shop when feeling down they risk getting trapped in a vicious cycle of highs and lows akin to that found in other addictions.