By OR Management News Staff

The increased adherence of women to coronavirus policies may be one of the reasons for the lower vulnerability and mortality that they experienced, compared with men, in the early phase of the pandemic (Proc Natl Acad Sci 2020 Oct 15. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2012520117).

The researchers observed substantial gender differences in both attitudes and behaviors through a two-wave survey (March and April 2020), with 21,649 respondents in Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, which is part of the international project REPEAT (REpresentations, PErceptions and ATtitudes on the COVID-19).

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They found that women around the world are more inclined than men to:

  • consider COVID-19 a very serious health problem (59% vs. 48.7% in March and 39.6% vs. 33% in April);
  • agree with public policies that fight the pandemic, such as mobility restrictions and social distancing (54.1 vs. 47.7 in an index that goes from 1 to 100 in March and 42.6 vs. 37.4 in April); and
  • follow the rules concerning COVID-19 (88.1% vs. 83.2% in March and 77.6% vs. 71.8% in April).
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The share of individuals complying with the rules dropped over time, particularly 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, but the large gender gap persisted.

“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, PhD, of Bocconi University’s COVID Crisis Lab, in Milan. Gender differences persisted even after the study controlled a large number of sociodemographic characteristics and psychological factors.

However, such differences are smaller among married couples, who live together and share their views with each other, and among individuals most directly exposed to the pandemic. They decrease over time if men and women are exposed to the same flow of information about the pandemic.

“Policymakers who promote a 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 lead author Vincenzo Galasso, PhD, also of the crisis lab.