A new study done jointly by researchers from Italy, France and the US has found that women are more likely to perceive Covid-19 as a serious health problem and comply with public health measures like wearing a mask and staying at home.
The evidence has important implications for public health policies and communication on Covid-19 which may need to be gender based, the researchers said. These results are consistent with how women-led countries like New Zealand, Germany and Taiwan, among others, responded swiftly to contain the pandemic.
The study looked at data from two waves of a survey conducted in March and April in eight countries that are a part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Responses of 21,649 individuals from Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) were analyzed and results published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on October 15.
“We find that women are more likely to perceive the pandemic as a very serious health problem, to agree with restraining measures and to comply with public health rules, such as using facemasks,” said Vincenzo Galasso, professor of economics at the Bocconi University in Italy and the lead author of the study. “These gender differences are less strong for married individuals and for individuals who have been directly exposed to Covid-19, for instance by knowing someone who was infected.”
Around the world more men than women are dying of Covid-19, according to emerging data. While previous research has looked at how certain occupations put more men at risk, this study asks whether there are behavioral differences between the two genders.
This data is from the period when most countries were beginning to implement lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.
“We do not have results from low-income countries, but among the eight countries we analyzed, the gender differences are persistent in both waves and of the same magnitude in all countries,” said Paola Profeta, professor of economics at Bocconi University and a co-author of the study. “This may lead us to believe that similar results could also apply elsewhere.”
Other researchers pointed out for need for more data from low-income countries. “This particular evidence comes from a set of OECD countries but such research should be also conducted in other countries, particularly India that contributes to the highest daily global burden of COVID-19 infections,” said William Joe, assistant professor at the Population Research Centre at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. “Conclusive evidence on preventive measures and its contribution toward infection control can be important to design policies or nudge response towards various health advisories,” said Joe whose research focusses on health economics and demography.
Researchers said while it was clear that women were more compliant, they were not able to single out the mechanism that makes them so and added that further research is needed to understand this better. “It would be important to understand which public communication could be effective in convincing men to comply more with the rules,” said Galasso.
A key insight from this study is about a high risk attitude among men towards Covid-19. “In terms of public messaging this is akin to adoption of stricter warnings and messages such as those used for public health messaging around NO SMOKING,” said Joe.