It's typically the women of movies and television shows that swipe credit cards at shopping malls. But in reality, nearly as many men suffer from compulsive buying disorder as women, a new study finds.
Compulsive shopping disorder is characterized by an irresistible and senseless urge to buy goods. People who suffer from it go on shopping binges and collect tons of unnecessary stuff and often end up in debt.
The afflicted typically lie to family members and friends about their purchases. Many end up divorced and bankrupt. Some attempt suicide.
Men afflicted too
Previous studies showed that between 2 and 16 percent of the American population were afflicted with compulsive buying disorder. Of those, 90 percent were estimated to be women.
The new study is the first large, nationwide effort to evaluate the prevalence of the disorder. Of the 2,513 adults surveyed, 6 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men are said to be compulsive buyers.
"The widespread opinion that most compulsive buyers are women may be wrong," the researchers write in the October issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
On the street
Still, women get the majority of blame for compulsive spending. An informal and unscientific survey of shoppers (five men and five women) at a large department store in New York City this week revealed that both genders consider women to be the "shoppers" of the two.
"Men, they window shop and go for what they want," said Ada Mateo, a 34-year-old nanny from Brooklyn, NY. "We window shop, then shop, and then shop."
While picking up a shirt from a folded bunch on a table, a New Jersey woman who wished to remain anonymous admitted that although she herself hates shopping, most other women find solace in buying things. "Men are more practical, they only shop if they need something," she said. "Women are more emotional."
Gregory Watson, a 49-year-old technician from Freeport, NY said that he hoped he wasn't considered a compulsive buyer. When asked if he thought women or men were more compulsive shoppers, he said: "Women, no clue why."
But Renato Coda, a 29-year-old programmer from Pennington, NJ, seemed to know why.
"It's mostly when they get together with friends," Coda said as he was putting his mp3 earphones away. "They go to the mall and shoe stores. My sister does that."
Shop till you drop
Whatever the case, compulsive shopping can have a serious downside.
The new study, led by Lorrin Koran, emeritus professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, found that compulsive buyers tended to be younger with reported incomes under $50,000, a condition that may play role in the debt burden that many Americans suffer.
"Compulsive buying leads to serious psychological, financial and family problems including depression, overwhelming debt and the breakup of relationships," Koran said. "People don't realize the extent of damage it does to the sufferer."