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In Recession, Women Splurge as if Addicted

This may come as little surprise to most people: In times of crisis, women are more likely to take a shopping spree than in normal times.

A new survey finds almost half of UK women are frightened or scared by the recession, and 45 percent felt their financial situation had taken a hit. A full 75 percent said they would be making cutbacks.

Yet 79 percent of them said they would splurge to cheer themselves up.

Of the 700 women surveyed, 40 percent said depression was an excuse to overspend; 60 percent said "feeling a bit low" was a good enough reason.

"This type of spending, or compensatory consumption, serves as a way of regulating intense emotions," said Karen Pine, a University of Hertfordshire professor and author of "Sheconomics" (Headline Publishing Group, 2009).

The itch to shop has long been known to overwhelm some people, either because of simple materialism or to compensate for emotional problems. Many researchers liken it to addiction, and some think it has been a growing problem in the modern consumerism society.

The problem is likely not confined to women. A 2006 study in the United States found 6 percent of women have it so bad they are labeled compulsive buyers, but so are 5.5 percent of men.

Pine says this compensatory behavior could become more pronounced in a recession. People use drugs and alcohol similarly to regulate emotions, Pine explains, but she thinks shopping is increasingly employed by women for this purpose. And, paradoxically, worrying about money could lead women to spend more, she said.

"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."

Problem is, the splurges don't always have the intended effect.

About 25 percent of the women surveyed said shopping sprees in the week prior to being surveyed left them with feelings of regret, guilt or shame.

Sounds a lot like other addictions, Pine said.

Copyright © 2009 Imaginova Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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