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Women are better at wearing masks and following other safety measures, study suggests

A new study conducted by research at New York University and Yale University has found gender disparities in practicing safety measures.

Women are better at wearing masks and following other safety measures, study suggests
Image Source: Getty Images/ Moises Ortega Mejia

Wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing your hands are crucial ways to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. A new study undertaken by researchers at New York University and Yale University has concluded that women are better at following these practices than men are, CNN reports. Through examining survey data, conducting street observations, and analyzing of smartphone movements, the research team was able to determine that women are better at these preventative measures as well as listening to experts. These findings, the researchers said, are not all that surprising. Previous studies had already confirmed that women are more effective hand-washers than men are. Now, it is time to focus on fine-tuning health messages so that they can reach men.




The study was published earlier this week in the journal Behavioral Science & Policy. It found that women are more efficient when it comes to taking preventative measures in addition to listening to experts and expressing alarm and anxiety in response to the ongoing pandemic. The study surveyed 800 people and found that women were more likely than men to state that they maintained social distance, stayed at home, washed their hands frequently, and mixed less with family and friends. The only measure in which men and women scored equally was the frequency of contact with people other than friends or family.


Nonetheless, self-reported may not always be fully accurate. Therefore, the researchers at Yale and NYU also looked at pedestrians and mask-wearing in three different US locations, including New York City, New Haven, Connecticut, and New Brunswick, New Jersey. Ultimately, they discovered that 55 percent of women wore masks properly compared with 38 percent of men. This is despite the fact that gender distribution in these cities is fairly equal. The study also had a third component: Researchers used GPS data to measure social distancing. They tracked 15 million smartphones for overall movement and visits to non-essential stores like spas, florists, and fitness facilities between March 9 and May 29. Results showed that counties with a higher percentage of men displayed comparatively less social distancing. These differences remained even after accounting for cases per capita in these counties, the presence of stay-at-home orders, and other demographic characteristics (like income, education, and profession) that could determine whether people worked from home or were more likely to work in essential sectors.



According to the research team, their findings were not a total surprise. While we have long known that women are better at washing their hands than men are, a 2016 review found that women were 50 percent more likely than men to practice, or increase, protective behavior like proper hand-washing, mask-wearing, and surface cleaning in the context of an epidemic, like a flu. Irmak Olcaysoy Okten, a postdoctoral researcher in New York University's Department of Psychology and the paper's lead author, said in a press statement, "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. 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."


Moving forward, governments may need to think about how to better craft campaigns in order for their messaging to reach men. Targeting men, Okten suggested, could help reduce the spread of the virus. The study states, "Policymakers might target men's illusions of invulnerability... and remind them of their responsibilities to others and themselves during this critical period. Disseminating prevention messages particularly in places where men frequently get together can be an effective strategy."


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