Gender differences in COVID-19 attitudes and behavior: Panel evidence from eight countries

Edited by Douglas S. Massey, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and approved September 2, 2020 (received for review June 17, 2020)
October 15, 2020
117 (44) 27285-27291

Significance

Public health response to COVID-19 requires behavior changes—isolation at home, wearing masks. Its effectiveness depends on generalized compliance. Original data from two waves of a survey conducted in March−April 2020 in eight Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries (n = 21,649) show large gender differences in COVID-19−related beliefs and behaviors. Women are more likely to perceive the pandemic as a very serious health problem and to agree and comply with restraining measures. These differences are only partially mitigated for individuals cohabiting or directly exposed to COVID-19. This behavioral factor contributes to substantial gender differences in mortality and is consistent with women-led countries responding more effectively to the pandemic. It calls for gender-based public health policies and communication.

Abstract

The initial public health response to the breakout of COVID-19 required fundamental changes in individual behavior, such as isolation at home or wearing masks. The effectiveness of these policies hinges on generalized public obedience. Yet, people’s level of compliance may depend on their beliefs regarding the pandemic. We use original data from two waves of a survey conducted in March and April 2020 in eight Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries (n = 21,649) to study gender differences in COVID-19−related beliefs and behaviors. We show that women are more likely to perceive COVID-19 as a very serious health problem, to agree with restraining public policy measures, and to comply with them. Gender differences in attitudes and behavior are sizable in all countries. They are accounted for neither by sociodemographic and employment characteristics nor by psychological and behavioral factors. They are only partially mitigated for individuals who cohabit or have direct exposure to the virus. We show that our results are not due to differential social desirability bias. This evidence has important implications for public health policies and communication on COVID-19, which may need to be gender based, and it unveils a domain of gender differences: behavioral changes in response to a new risk.

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Data Availability

Anonymized survey dataset and code data have been deposited in Dataverse Harvard (https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/vincent_pons).

Acknowledgments

Nicola Bariletto, Marco Lo Faso, and Nicolas Longuet Marx provided research assistance. V.G. thanks Roberto Tattà for inspirational discussions. Survey data are from the project Attitudes on COVID-19: A Comparative Study, chaired by S.B. and M.F. (Sciences Po). Financial Support from French Agency for Research (ANR) - REPEAT grant (Special COVID-19), IAST funding from ANR under the Investments for the Future (“Investissements d’Avenir”) program, Grant ANR-17-EURE-0010, and Unicredit Foundation are acknowledged.

Supporting Information

Appendix (PDF)

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 117 | No. 44
November 3, 2020
PubMed: 33060298

Classifications

Data Availability

Anonymized survey dataset and code data have been deposited in Dataverse Harvard (https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/vincent_pons).

Submission history

Published online: October 15, 2020
Published in issue: November 3, 2020

Keywords

  1. COVID-19 public health rules
  2. gender differences
  3. compliance with rules

Acknowledgments

Nicola Bariletto, Marco Lo Faso, and Nicolas Longuet Marx provided research assistance. V.G. thanks Roberto Tattà for inspirational discussions. Survey data are from the project Attitudes on COVID-19: A Comparative Study, chaired by S.B. and M.F. (Sciences Po). Financial Support from French Agency for Research (ANR) - REPEAT grant (Special COVID-19), IAST funding from ANR under the Investments for the Future (“Investissements d’Avenir”) program, Grant ANR-17-EURE-0010, and Unicredit Foundation are acknowledged.

Notes

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
*In SI Appendix, Table S1, we report the number of deaths per million from COVID-19 in the different countries at the start of the first wave and the start of the second wave.
See SI Appendix, Supplementary Information Text for the exact wording of the questions and the full list of questions asked in each wave and in each country.
We also control for ethnicity, in the United States, and Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal, in Australia. Available controls vary across countries and waves. See SI Appendix, Supplementary Information Text for more details.
§
We do not find a reduction in gender differences in regions with a higher fraction of cases or deaths, as measured at the time of each wave, indicating that the effect of gender is mitigated by first-hand experience of the pandemic, not by its overall prevalence (SI Appendix, Table S10).
List experiments have been shown to elicit truthful answers to sensitive questions for a wide range of behaviors (2729).
#
The answer of truthful respondents would only reveal that they met with more than two people outside of their household if they also performed all other actions. Very few people fall in this category: Only 4% of respondents presented with the list of four neutral actions reported they performed all of them.

Authors

Affiliations

Department of Social and Political Sciences, Bocconi University, 20136 Milan, Italy;
Centre for Economic Policy Research, EC1V 0DX, London, UK
Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research, 20136 Milan, Italy;
Dondena Center, 20136 Milan, Italy;
Harvard Business School, Boston, MA 02163;
National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA 02138;
Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, Cambridge, MA 02142;
Department of Social and Political Sciences, Bocconi University, 20136 Milan, Italy;
Dondena Center, 20136 Milan, Italy;
Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, University Toulouse 1 Capitole, 31080 Toulouse, France;
Department of Political Science, Sciences Po, 75007 Paris, France;
Centre de Recherches Politiques de Sciences Po, 75007 Paris, France;
Department of Political Science, Sciences Po, 75007 Paris, France;
Centre de Recherches Politiques de Sciences Po, 75007 Paris, France;
CNRS, 75 016 Paris, France.

Notes

2
To whom correspondence may be addressed. Email: [email protected].
Author contributions: V.G., V.P., and P.P. did the conceptualization of the research question, the data curation, the formal analysis, and the writing of the paper; M.B., S.B., and M.F. provided comments on the final draft and designed the survey questionnaire; V.G. and V.P. provided comments on the final draft of the questionnaire.
1
V.G., V.P., and P.P. contributed equally to this work.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no competing interest.

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    Gender differences in COVID-19 attitudes and behavior: Panel evidence from eight countries
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 117
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    • pp. 27063-27746

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