Gender Differences in Australian Gambling: A Critical Summary of Sociological and Psychological Research
Delfabbro, Paul, Australian Journal of Social Issues
Despite frequent reports on the significant increase in the number of women gambling in Australia, there has been relatively little detailed research undertaken to address the issue. This paper provides a critical summary of recent Australian findings and their implications for future research and clinical interventions. Its conclusion is that while gender is a strong predictor of preferences for gambling activities, more carefully designed studies must be conducted to determine whether gender influences other facets of gambling behaviour. This is principally because of the difficulty associated with accounting for the confounding effects of gender and activity preferences and the omission of male comparison groups in some gender studies.
Until recently, the topic of gender differences in gambling behaviour has been largely neglected (Mark & Lesieur 1992). As in some other fields of social inquiry, research within this area has been both `gender insensitive' and overgeneralised (Eichler 1986). Data relating specifically to gender have either been omitted or inadequately discussed. Findings obtained from predominantly male samples have been frequently generalised to all gamblers. These trends have emerged within the context of both community and clinical studies (e.g. Lesieur & Blume 1987; Volberg 1994), in which it was found that women were significantly less likely than men to gamble and experience gambling-related problems. As McMillen (1996) has pointed out, such assumptions have become increasingly difficult to maintain during the 1990s. The advent of Keno, larger, more upmarket casinos, and, importantly, the introduction of slot machines to local clubs and hotels in most Australian states (McMillen 1996) has led to a dramatic increase in the number of women gambling and experiencing gambling-related problems (Crisp 1998; Delfabbro & Winefield 1996; Blaszczynski et al. 1997; Hraba & Lee 1995; Wootton 1995). As a result, concerns have been raised that findings obtained from earlier male-only studies may not be applicable to female gamblers, and may be an unreliable source on which to base intervention strategies (Crisp 1998).
Australian evidence for gender differences
Given this state of affairs, the search for gender differences has become a central component of gambling research, particularly in Australia. Data relating to the topic have emerged both directly and indirectly. Indirect sources have included general population surveys covering both male and female gamblers (e.g. Delfabbro & Winefield 1996; Dickerson, Baron & O'Connor 1994; Dickerson et al. 1994; Dickerson, Walker & Baron 1994), while direct information has emerged from specific studies of gender and gambling. Unfortunately, neither has proved entirely satisfactory. Population surveys are limited in that they typically contain very little interpretation or detailed analysis of gender differences, whereas the latter studies, while detailed, are difficult to reconcile because of variations in subject matter, methodology and sampling.
For example, some treatments have involved case studies (e.g. Brown 1997; Johnson & McLure 1997; Thomas 1995); others have used convenience samples of regular gamblers (Burnett & Ong 1997; Di Duo & Ong 1997; Ohtsuka et al. 1995); while yet others have examined gender differences in samples of problem gamblers in treatment (Crisp 1998; Loughnan et al. 1996; Pierce et al. 1997). Topics discussed have included motivational factors (Ohtsuka et al. 1995), coping strategies (Quirk 1996; Di Duo & Ong 1997), personality correlates (Burnett & Ong 1997) and gambling problems (Crisp 1998; Loughnan et al. 1996; Ohtsuka et al. 1995; Pierce et al. 1997). The value of these studies is that they demonstrate the problems previously observed in male gamblers are also common among female gamblers. However, because only four of these papers (Crisp 1998; Loughnan et al. …