Scanning the British media, you’d be hard-pressed to find an obvious gender difference in attitudes to lockdown. There are both men and women represented among prominent lockdown proponents, as well as among prominent lockdown sceptics.
Which makes a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year all the more interesting. Vincenzo Galasso and colleagues analysed data from a survey carried out in eight OECD countries (including Italy, the U.K. and Australia) in March–April of 2020.
The survey measured respondents’ concern about the pandemic, their attitudes to lockdown measures such as closing schools and ‘non-essential’ businesses, and their self-reported compliance with government restrictions (see here for a full list of measures).
What did the researchers find? Across all eight countries (with the exception of Austria in the second wave), women were more likely than men to be concerned about the pandemic. They were also more likely to support lockdown measures, and reported greater compliance with government restrictions.
These findings are shown in the chart below. Note: “Overall agreement” corresponds to a measure of agreement with lockdown measures, while “Overall Compliance” corresponds to a measure of self-reported compliance. The units on the y-axis are percentage points.
As the chart indicates, the gender differences were not huge: women were about seven percentage points more pro-lockdown than men. But they were robust, and not explained by demographic characteristics like age, education or occupation type.
The finding that women are more pro-lockdown is somewhat surprising, given that COVID-19 appears to be more lethal for men. After all, you might expect groups that are at higher risk to be more in favour of restrictions.
The authors suggest that women’s greater compliance with government restrictions could help to explain the gender gap in risk of death from COVID-19, though I suspect any contribution is small. Women mount stronger immune responses to most pathogens, and this almost certainly explains why COVID-19 is more lethal in men.
Interestingly, the two Western states at the extreme ends of the ‘containment spectrum’ – New Zealand (the most restrictive) and South Dakota (the least) are both led by women. This illustrates that moderate gender differences in attitudes only go so far in explaining actual differences in policy.
The researchers’ finding is nonetheless interesting, and their paper is worth reading in full.