How Big Is The Covid-19 Fear Gap Between Men And Women?

A new study suggests that men and women worry about Covid-19 for different reasons.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | August 27, 2021

A new study published in Frontiers in Psychology examines why women are more worried about Covid-19 than men, despite health data showing that men are more likely to become seriously ill or die from the disease. For instance, a recent meta-analysis found that men have about a 40% greater mortality risk from Covid-19 and are approximately three times more likely to be admitted to hospital intensive care units.

"Despite the empirical fact that men are more likely to experience adverse health consequences from Covid-19, women report greater fear and more negative expectations about health-related consequences of Covid-19 than men," say the authors of the research led by Sheryl Ball and Alec Smith of Virginia Tech. "In our survey, we found that nearly 20% of women chose the highest available value for fear of the pandemic, compared to around 9% of men."

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers invited 1,500 representative U.S. adults to take part in an online survey that measured people's emotions, behaviors, and expectations associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey took place in April 2020.

The main takeaways from the study were:

  • Women reported more Covid-19 health fear than men. Women were also more likely to engage in preventative measures such as washing one's hands frequently, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing than men.
  • The gender gap in preventative health behaviors went away when the authors factored out the effect of fear. This, according to the researchers, suggests that "fear of the Covid-19 pandemic, and not gender per se, drives behavioral differences."
  • Men expressed more fear about the economic implications of the Covid-19 pandemic than women.

These results square with other studies. For instance, a Reuters/Ipsos poll fielded around the time of this research found that 54% of women said they were "very concerned" about Covid-19. For men, this number was only 45%. The poll also found men to be less likely to wash their hands and use hand sanitizers frequently, less committed to avoiding public gatherings, less supportive of the closing of public schools, and more likely to believe people were unnecessarily panicked about Covid-19.

The finding that men exhibit more economic fear has implications for policymakers.

"Legislators should keep in mind that people have economic as well as health concerns about Covid-19," says Smith. "This suggests that messaging about preventative measures like mask wearing — which the scientific evidence says is effective — might be more effective if it emphasizes both economic as well as health benefits of these behaviors."

The researchers expect that, despite the emergence of more transmissible variants of Covid-19, fear of the disease has decreased from last year.

"The average person is probably less afraid of Covid-19 now than in April 2020," says Ball. "The reason we believe this is that we originally collected data in the beginning, middle and end of April 2020, and we find that fear decreased substantially even during that month. We expect that it has continued to decrease since then."

A full interview with Dr. Sheryl Ball and Dr. Alec Smith discussing this research can be found here: Anxiety, gender, and Covid-19