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It’s Time for Marketing Researchers to Change Their Approach to Gender

It's Time for Marketing Researchers to Change Their Approach to Gender

Lisa Peñaloza, Andrea Prothero, Pierre McDonagh and Kathrynn Pounders

Patterns of love, work, parenting, and caring for the elderly, along with prominent social movements calling for workplace equity and positive gender representations in media, have altered conventional notions of gender roles worldwide. Two of the most prominent contemporary examples are freedom to transition across gender and the legalization of same-sex marriage in an increasing number of nations.

These social transformations mean that a large number of consumers are changing their attitudes toward style, social interaction, and enertainment. As a result, companies have been forced to reimagine their strategies, and marketers have to accommodate a broadening array of gender identities and practices. It is common to see ads featuring working mothers assisted by stay-at-home fathers, men using cleaning products and makeup, and retailers offering a range of gender-neutral products. On its website, the PHA Group, a global PR/digital media company based in the UK, shows how the beauty industry is embracing gender fluidity by offering gender-neutral products and cause-based promotional strategies rather than targeting customers based on their sex.

In a new Journal of Marketing study, we explore how the socialization of researchers—especially their commitments to particular research values and practices—impacts the types and results of gender-based research published in top-tier marketing journals. We find that the socialization and commitments to research values and practices is the reason why much of this research does not reflect contemporary society or marketing practice.


Our international team examined academic papers on gender published in the top-tier marketing journals over a nearly 30-year period (from 1993 to 2021) and find that a majority of research focuses on gender differences between men and women, as well as gender traits such as men being assertive and women focusing on relationships. Also profiled is research on gender roles, such as relationships between husbands and wives, mother/fathers with daughters/sons, and studies where traditional assumptions of what it means to be a man or woman predominate.

We find that less than 10% of articles address the social construction of gender experiences and identities in examples such as stay-at-home fathers and women’s empowerment in engaging in DIY activities. There are few studies on sexuality, such as investigations of the consumption practices of LGBTQIA+ consumers. An even smaller number of papers explore gender injustice and violence (e.g., depictions of violence against women in advertisements as well as equality, diversity, and inclusion). The smallest category of studies consider how products and brands are “gendered” (i.e., how marketers and consumers attribute masculine and feminine characteristics to products and brands).

Differences Versus Similarities

Our analysis shows that quantitative research methods predominate published research on gender, and the focus on differences totally eclipses attention to similarities in research dealing with gender-based resource imbalances in societies. Further, our results show that most of the quantitative work on gender relies on convenience samples and that just under half of the convenience samples are composed of college students. Given that students have higher education levels and fewer life experiences than the general adult population, we question the representativeness and generalizability of research based on students in generating knowledge of gender in marketing and in society.

We recommend that marketing researchers ensure their research methods include traditional and nontraditional, as well as genderfluid and nonbinary, gender positions and roles to reflect contemporary society. We encourage academics and practitioners to address the ethical implications of their findings on gendered persons and marketing strategies. Such work might feature the societal impact of hiring retail staff with a particular “look” or physique, which would be a step to ensure that research published in top-tier marketing journals is in step with current gender expressions.

In sum, our study links the way researchers think about gender to research methods and findings published in the top-tier marketing journals.

Lessons for Stakeholders

  • For researchers: Describe similarities between genders and differences within genders. Do not focus only on differences between men and women.
  • For journal editors: Encourage diverse and innovative submissions.
  • For reviewers: Demand contemporary scales in submissions investigating gender.
  • For teachers: Include gender topics in classes on consumer behavior and marketing and write case studies that feature diverse genders and gender relations for these classes.
  • For academic institutions: Incentivize gender research and related faculty innovations.
  • For companies: Update thinking and methods to reflect evolving genders and gender relations in societies.

Overall, updating gender research to be more diverse and inclusive and to feature the impacts on gendered persons will make the findings more relevant to industry and to society, and result in better marketing research for a better world.

Read the Full Study for Complete Details

From: Lisa Peñaloza, Andrea Prothero, Pierre McDonagh, and Kathrynn Pounders, “The Past and Future of Gender Research in Marketing: Paradigms, Stances, and Value-Based Commitments,” Journal of Marketing.

Go to the Journal of Marketing

Lisa Peñaloza is Professor of Marketing, KEDGE Business School, France.

Andrea Prothero is Professor of Business and Society, University College Dublin, Ireland.

Pierre McDonagh is Professor of Critical Marketing and Society, University of Bath, UK.

Kathrynn Pounders is Associate Professor of Advertising, University of Texas at Austin, USA.