I think it's because of "tradition". My grandmother on my mom's side uses Dove. My grandmother on my dad's side uses Dove too, but there's always a bar of Irish Spring around (mostly for my Uncles I think). Probably around the fifth grade was when I started yearning to use shower gels. I would spend a lot of time sniffing them. Finally I used some of my allowance and bought my first one which was one made by Herbal Essence. It smelled so good. No more boring scented Dove soap for me. Unless I was using my allowance on something else and couldn't pick up a body wash.
But which one is really better? I don't think one is necessarily better than the other. It's all about personal preference. In my opinion, I think I'm starting to like bar soap a bit better. And that's just because it seems to clean better, it's cheaper, it suds up more with just a washcloth, theres less packaging which equals less waste, easier to travel with etc. It does have it's negative points though. Mostly if your not careful with it and place it somewhere that it can dry and stay that way, it can turn into a pile of mush or melt away too quickly.
Now thats not to say I don't like gels. I do. It's just that they don't seem to clean as well for me, they are more expensive, plastic containers which are wasteful, and most of them you have to use a shower puff with them or not enough lather. Another thing is they seem to contain more chemicals than your traditional bar. BUT they always seem to come in better scents.
That is unless you get those fancy homemade bar soaps from Lush, Soaptopia, or someone off of Etsy. (there are others but those are the one's I drool over) The best priced ones and also the most natural I have found were the ones made by Nubian Heritage. You can usually find them at hair stores or little stands in the mall sometimes. I've ordered them off of Iherb.com also. They are pretty good, I have reviews on all of them on my blog.
So which one do you prefer, bar soap or body wash?