Is the male paleo stereotype for real?
Or is it obscuring something far more powerful and ground-shifting? That was something I wanted to get to the bottom of when I heard about Dr. Hamilton Stapell’s talk at Paleo F(x) in March.
Dr. Stapell is Assistant Professor of History at the State University of New York (SUNY), New Paltz, and sits on the Evolutionary Studies Board (EvoS). He is also is the creator of one of the first college-level courses on ancestral living: EVO 201 Evolution and Human Health and a historian of post-1945 Europe.
His talk at the conference was entitled “Stereotypes and Reality: Demographics, Common Practices, and Motivating Factors of the Ancestral Health Movement Today“. He was talking about the type of people that do paleo, and how and why they do it.
Back in 2010, when I would
haunt frequent the comment section of Mark’s Daily Apple, it seemed to my mind, that a lot of folks commenting were men. And yet I looked at the number of subscribers to the website (I think it was around 120,000 back then, now it is 350,000) and wondered if the comments were representative of the gender split among those who were frequenting the site?
Intuitively, I felt it wasn’t. More women are focused on weight-loss than men – 23% of women reported they were on a diet during 2012 compared with 20% of all adults, while women seek weight-loss surgery five times more than men.
As weight-loss is a large component of getting healthier, it made sense to me that women probably comprised the majority of those 350,000 subscribers.
But where were they?
I remember reading the free Primal Blueprint fitness program and thinking how “male” it was. After years of aerobics, yoga, T-Tapp and walking, I couldn’t relate to the idea of a Bulgarian squat, a Jack Knife press, or Cross Spidermans.
Women weren’t making themselves known in numbers, and elements of the paleo movement – the original gurus of the paleo movement being exclusively male, the emphasis on muscles and lifting heavy things, the evolutionary argument with the corresponding caveman “grunt” component associated with it – made paleo unfriendly to women.
Unfriendly, but still compelling
So Dr. Stapell’s examination into the real story behind the idea of paleo being dominated by single, white males whose motivations include vanity and increased dating opportunities was intriguing.
He sent out a survey back in February and March 2013 and got 4,291 responses. His academic colleagues thought he’d get just a few hundred responses but using bloggers and social media to promote it, the feedback was far higher – a testimony, I think, to the enthusiasm and committed nature of paleos.
The purpose was to gather demographic information, common practices and motivating factors about those who “go paleo” and use it to predict the future of the movement when compared with similar movements in history.
These are the highlights from his presentation:
- 56% of respondents were women
- Mean age: 38 (men 37; women 39)
- 92% were Caucasian
- 74% had Bachelors degrees or higher
- 41% of households earned $100K or higher (2.5 times the national average!)
- 68% were married or in a committed relationship
- Nearly everyone avoided grains and legumes but only 30% avoided dairy with more women observing the no-dairy rule
- Respondents on average considered themselves to be 87% compliant with the diet
- Recovery from disease (including weight-loss) comprised the main motivating factor for 62%
- More women than men cited recovery from disease (including weight-loss) as the main motivating factor while more men than women cited improved athletic performance.
- 85% of respondents had “gone paleo” within the last three years. Men were the early adopters but the rate at which women move to paleo has caught up and now overtaken the rate at which men are now adopting a paleo lifestyle.
- 82% do strength training at least 1 time a week, more men do it than women; fewer numbers do aerobic exercise (24% do no aerobic training; only 16% do CrossFit.)
- The average hours of sleep is 7.6 which is not much better than the national average.
- 65% believed in evolution, 5 times the national average.
- 70% were US-based but 30% of paleos were located internationally.
- The state with the highest number of paleo respondents was California – twice that of the next highest state, New York.
- 92% who took the survey reported overall health improvements: 85% had better body composition; 74% reported improved mental performance; 70% greater athletic performance.
So what can we glean from this data?
I think we can safely put the paleo stereotype of young, single, white male to bed. Literally. Those of us meeting the average age and above could be his mother!
The level of education and household income does indicate something, but what? The truth in the charges of elitism? Openness to new ideas and independence of thought? The drive and disposable income to source grass-fed beef? What do you think?
The importance of paleo women
The most important aspect of these survey results to me, however, is the increasing number of women who are adopting this lifestyle. The fact that those of us in the paleo movement hammer home the fact that it is *for life* gives me hope that we are moving away from “dieting” and the yo-yo cycle.
Women are where the growth is
The increasing numbers of women now adopting paleo, and adopting it at a higher rate than men, may mean that the ultimate success of paleo lies with them.
Women are the future of paleo
But the reason I think the involvement of women in paleo is most important is this: women control the family diet. This means we can influence the health of, not just ourselves, but our children and our children’s children. We can have an effect over the health of generations of our family.
By feeding our kids real food we are setting them up for life, giving them a blueprint to follow later when they become independent adults and providing them with the nourishment to develop healthy bodies.
Informed, currently childless, woman are vital
Women who have not yet had their children have an even greater opportunity. By nurturing their bodies prior to, and during, pregnancy they can set up their children and grandchildren for the greatest healthiest start.
You might not be thinking about the health of your grandchildren when you’re trying to get pregnant with your own child but when your kids grow up, it may well become increasingly important to you (it has to me, at least), so it pays to think about it beforehand.
A cautionary tale
I said at the beginning that Dr. Stapell is a historian. And he sees many parallels between the paleo movement and the Physical Culture Movement of the early 20th century. Both were middle-class in origin, both developed after major cultural churn – the Industrial Revolution, and in our case, the digital revolution, to name two similarities.
The issue is that this movement faded away. It did not endure.
And so the question is, will this happen to paleo? Will paleo become a “fad”? Dr. Stapell will present his thoughts on this at the Ancestral Health Symposium next month. I, for one, eagerly await his thoughts.
Were you surprised by this information Did you think that most paleos were men? Or young? Have you managed to find a paleo “home” on the internet where you feel you are among like-minded others, or is there still a ways to go? And do you think paleo will fade away or is it here to stay? Tell us in the comments!