Women have been better at doing this during the pandemic

Generally speaking, women have always been thought of as the kinder, more thoughtful gender. So, perhaps the results of an extensive new research project from New York University and Yale University shouldn’t be all that surprising.

After analyzing three separate studies, the research team has concluded that women do a much better job following coronavirus safety and health recommendations than men.

Women are more likely to wear a face mask, follow social distancing rules, and maintain proper hygiene (handwashing, etc). Similarly, women are more likely to take COVID-19 seriously as a health threat, listen to health experts, and feel coronavirus-related anxiety.

According to the study’s authors, women have been taking health matters more seriously than men for far longer than the past eight months or so.

“Previous research before the pandemic shows that women had been visiting doctors more frequently in their daily lives and following their recommendations more so than men,” explains lead author Irmak Olcaysoy Okten, a postdoctoral researcher in NYU’s Department of Psychology, in a university release. “They also pay more attention to the health-related needs of others. So it’s not surprising that these tendencies would translate into greater efforts on behalf of women to prevent the spread of the pandemic.”

As mentioned earlier, these results weren’t reached haphazardly. Three distinct studies were incorporated into this project, all conducted earlier this year during COVID-19’s first U.S. “peak.”

The first of those studies was a survey of nearly 800 people. Each respondent was surveyed on how closely they follow social distancing rules, how often they leave the house, and for what purpose, handwashing habits, and frequency of in-person contact with others in general. 

Across the board, female study participants were more likely to follow the right practices (strictly following social distancing, only leaving home for essentials) than male respondents. Also, women were much more likely to report getting their information on social distancing from sources like health experts, local governors, and social media.

Notably, female survey respondents were also more likely to take the pandemic seriously in general, feel anxiety about the pandemic, and feel a sense of responsibility to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.

The second study encompassed roughly 3,000 US counties and 15 million GPS smartphone coordinates (between March 9th & May 29th). More specifically, researchers were interested in comparing trips made by men and women to non-essential locations (stores, gyms, restaurants).

Sure enough, counties with larger male populations showed less social distancing in general, more movement, and more trips to non-essential locations. 

These findings remained consistent even after accounting for the rate of COVID-19 cases within a given county, stay-at-home orders at that time, and other demographic factors (income, education).

The study’s authors even considered the possibility that men may be working more jobs considered essential, and thus were leaving home more often. Once again, though, taking employment percentages for various industries (construction, mining, agriculture, etc) into account didn’t change the overall findings.

Finally, the third study involved watching a total of 300 random pedestrians across three locations (NYC, New Haven, Conn., and New Brunswick, N.J.). Researchers looked to see how many pedestrians going about their day were wearing masks. Despite roughly the same amount of men and women living in these areas, many more women (57.7%) were observed wearing masks than men (42.3%).

Considering these conclusions, the study’s authors say it may be a good idea for public health agencies and governments to start launching more safety awareness campaigns targeted specifically for men. It may make a big difference in subsequent infection rates.

“Fine-tuning health messages to alert men in particular to the critical role of maintaining social distancing, hygiene, and mask-wearing may be an effective strategy in reducing the spread of the virus,” Okten concludes.

The full study can be found here, published in Behavioral Science & Policy.