Men and women are responding differently to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent survey. Women consider the pandemic a more serious problem than men and are more likely to approve and comply with health policies.
In light of this find, researchers say we should consider gender-specific policies and communication.
The initial public health response to the pandemic required fundamental changes in individual behavior, such as isolation at home or wearing masks. The effectiveness of these policies hinges on generalized public compliance, but people’s level of compliance also depends on their culture, communication, and people’s beliefs regarding the pandemic. According to a new study, it might also depend on gender.
Researchers from the Bocconi University in Italy carried out a two-wave survey in March and April. They worked with over 21,000 respondents from Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
Their main goal was to study gender differences in COVID-19−related beliefs and behaviors, and the findings showed big gender differences.
Women around the world are more likely than men to consider COVID-19 a very serious health problem (59% against 48% for men). At the same time, women are more inclined to agree with public policies that tackle the pandemic, such as social distancing (54% vs 47%).
“The biggest differences between men and women relate to behaviors that serve to protect others above all, such as coughing in the elbow, unlike those that can protect both themselves and others,” said Paola Profeta, co-author, in a statement.
Women are also more likely to follow rules regarding the pandemic (88% vs 83%), especially in the earlier stages of the pandemic. But this rate dropped over time both in both genders, although the gender gap still persisted, researchers note. This was particularly the case in Germany, from 85.8% of women and 81.5% of men in March to 70.5% of women and 63.7% of men in April.
However, differences were smaller among married couples, who live together and are more likely to share their views and values with each other. Differences also decrease over time if men and women are exposed to the same flow of information regarding the pandemic.
“Policymakers who promote new normality made of reduced mobility, face masks and other behavioral changes should, therefore, design a gender-differentiated communication if they want to increase the compliance of men,” said Vincenzo Galasso, co-author of the study, in a statement.
The difference in the COVID-19 response could also help explain why countries led by women seemed to perform better during the crisis. A previous study showed countries under women leaders such as Angela Merkel in Germany, Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan, or Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand have handled the COVID-19 crisis better and had half the deaths as those led by men.
The study was published in the journal PNAS.