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Experts say women are following safety measures for COVID-19 more than men. lisegagne/Getty Images
  • Researchers say women are taking the COVID-19 pandemic more seriously than men and are better at following safety measures.
  • They say the gender gap is similar to past research on male and female attitudes on healthcare in general.
  • Experts say the messaging to men on COVID-19 should be changed to focus more on how they can protect their family instead of just themselves.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

It takes a lot of cooperation to fight a pandemic.

This means making changes to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community.

It turns out women may be doing their part more than their male counterparts.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, women are more likely than men to take COVID-19 seriously and comply with mitigation efforts.

The team of international researchers says behavior may account for gender differences in mortality. It’s also consistent with more effective responses in countries led by women.

“Policy makers 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 Vincenzo Galasso, PhD, a study author and a professor in the department of social and political sciences at Bocconi University in Italy, in a press statement.

The research included 21,649 men and women in Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Results showed that women are more likely to look at COVID-19 as a serious health problem. And they’re more likely to agree with public policies designed to fight the novel coronavirus.

The biggest differences have to do with behaviors that protect others, such as coughing into the elbow.

Differences are smaller among married couples, couples who live together, and people who’ve been directly affected by the pandemic.

This goes along with other recently published research that indicates that women are more likely to listen to experts when it comes to COVID-19.

In a survey of 800 people, more women said they stayed home more, practiced social or physical distancing, and washed their hands more frequently.

In another study of people in the northeastern United States, 55 percent of women were observed wearing masks properly, compared with 38 percent of men.

Another survey from May involved 2,500 people and found that men in the United States were less inclined to wear face masks than women.

In countries where face coverings are mandatory, the gender divide is smaller.

These health-related behavior differences were around long before COVID-19.

In a 2016 review, researchers looked at studies from around the world. They found that in the context of an epidemic such as the flu, women were almost 50 percent more likely than men to practice and/or increase protective behaviors such as proper handwashing, surface cleaning, and wearing face masks than men.

Dr. Richard Seidman is chief medical officer of L.A. Care Health Plan in California.

He told Healthline that society puts more pressure on men to appear tough.

“Many studies have shown that men are less likely to follow recommendations for routine annual health exams and other preventive measures. Generally speaking, women have been responsible for family health, where men have been more reluctant to talk about health,” said Seidman.

Deborah Beidel, PhD, ABPP, is executive director of UCF Restores in Orlando, Florida.

“The less likely we are to talk about something, the less likely we are to do something about it,” Beidel told Healthline.

She noted a recent study that found these gender differences transcend political party lines.

“Though it’s too early to speculate on why this disparity exists in relation to COVID-19 precautions specifically, psychologically, women are more likely to adopt ‘tend and befriend’ behavior,” she explained.

“Generally speaking, in the aftermath of trauma, women are more likely to seek out children and the elderly to ensure their needs are met. They also seek out and engage with others experiencing the same event, even strangers, in order to form a bond and a circle of care,” continued Beidel.

Evidence shows that COVID-19 can lead to more severe symptoms and higher mortality for men.

In the United States, the disease has killed almost 17,000 more men than women as of mid-October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The reasons for this disparity are not entirely clear, but there are probably several factors.

“Men and women get COVID-19 at the same rate, but men typically seek healthcare later relative to women,” said Seidman.

There are also key differences in the way the male versus female immune system responds to the coronavirus.

“Men have more receptors that bind the virus than women. They may have a higher viral load, and men’s immune systems are not as effective as women’s, so infections tend to last longer. There may well be multiple biologic explanations,” said Seidman.

Conveying the message to men can be challenging.

It’s particularly difficult when mask wearing is thought to compromise masculinity or freedom of choice or when governors and other politicians are not supportive of mask wearing, said Seidman.

“It’s essential to meet people where they are. It may be more effective to appeal to men to wear masks not only to protect themselves, but to protect their family, to do the right thing. Even the toughest of men can relate to that,” said Seidman.

“We simply won’t convince some people,” he added.

If you have a male friend, partner, family member, or colleague whose lack of precautions concerns you, Beidel recommends reaching out.

“There’s no need to go on the attack. This conversation could start like any other, asking how someone’s doing, how they’re weathering the storm, or something to that effect. From there, you can work to move the discussion to the effects the pandemic can carry for all of us — physically, mentally, emotionally — and what we can do to help safeguard ourselves and others,” advised Beidel.

“The more we can engage with the men in our lives about their experiences with COVID-19, and its impact on their familial, occupational, and social functioning, the greater our chances could be in closing this gender gap,” she added.

“The number of cases confirmed and the lives lost continue to rise, and those numbers don’t even touch on the mental health effects we’ve seen emerge and are working to evaluate as the virus wages on,” said Beidel.

“I cannot overstate the importance of understanding the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on individuals of all backgrounds and walks of life, as well as the importance of adhering to science-backed, data-driven precautionary safety measures — not only for your own safety, but for that of your friends, family, loved ones, and so many others,” she continued.

“The sobering reality is that this virus will be with us for the foreseeable future. We’ve got to be patient and hang in there,” said Seidman.

Vaccines are advancing quickly. Still, Seidman reminds us that it will take time for them to be proven safe and effective. And it’ll take still more time to become widely available and to achieve herd immunity.

In the meantime, Seidman says it bears repeating that our most effective tools are:

  • wearing masks
  • physical distancing
  • attention to hand hygiene
  • disinfecting frequently touched surfaces

“There’s no question they work. The sooner we comply and do these things, the better we’ll control the pandemic,” said Seidman.