In most states, people are required to wear a mask in public places to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. But women do a far better job of wearing masks than men, a new study found.
Women are also more likely than men to follow all COVID-19 precautions, like washing hands, staying home and social distancing. Plus, they’re more likely to follow news about the virus from medical experts, their governor, social media and by reading about how other countries have handled the pandemic — and in turn, experience anxiety and alarm.
For the study, published in the journal Behavioral Science & Policy, researchers at New York University and Yale University surveyed 800 people about their COVID-19 habits, counted mask-wearers on the street over two days and analyzed Americans’ movements with smartphone data.
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From the survey, they found that women were better at following guidelines in four ways — they were more likely to say they were social distancing, staying home, washing their hands frequently and avoiding meetups with different friends and family. There was no significant difference, though, between men and women in how often they reported having contact with people who are not friends or family.
For the second part of the study, the researchers watched men and women on the street for two days in New York City as well as New Haven, Connecticut, and New Brunswick, New Jersey, to count how many people were wearing masks. Out of 127 women and 173 men spotted, 55 percent of women were correctly wearing their masks, while just 38 percent of men wore them properly.
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The last measurement for the study was an analysis of GPS data from 14 million cell phones across the U.S., to see Americans’ movements and any trips to non-essential locations, such as spas, gyms and florists. The researchers found that counties with a higher percentage of men had lower rates of social distancing.
Even when the researchers accounted for areas where people were unable to work from home or did not have stay-at-home orders, men were still more likely to violate social distancing.
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The researchers said their findings are in line with past research on the difference in health habits between genders.
“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,” Irmak Olcaysoy Okten, a postdoctoral researcher in New York University’s Department of Psychology and lead author of the study, said in a press release.
“They also pay more attention to the health-related needs of others,” she added. “So it’s not surprising that these tendencies would translate into greater efforts on behalf of women to prevent the spread of the pandemic.”
To improve male health habits as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Olcaysoy Okten said that public health agencies may want to work on their messaging.
“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,” she said.
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