Female leaders handled coronavirus better than their male counterparts, reveals study
New research conducted by Liverpool and Reading universities shows that countries led by women—including Germany, New Zealand, Bangladesh, and Serbia—suffered fewer deaths and Covid-19 cases than comparable countries led by men.
Proactive policies such as earlier lockdown measures, which were communicated clearly and effectively, appear to have resulted in lower death rates under female leaders like Jacinda Ardern and Angela Merkel.
The researchers looked at 194 countries during the first peak of the pandemic. Because of the small sample size (only 19 of the countries are led by women), they chose a “nearest neighbour” for each country based on variables like GDP, urban population density, annual health expenditure per capita, openness to international travel, and societal gender equality, and found outcomes to be “systematically better” in countries led by women.
Examples of country comparisons include Serbia (female-led) and Israel (male-led); New Zealand (female) and Ireland (male); Germany (female) and the UK (male); and Bangladesh (female) and Pakistan (male). For each of these cases, female-led countries had fewer deaths and Covid-19 cases.
Supriya Garikipati and Uma Kambhampati, the authors of the study, speculate that, as a result of being more risk-averse about the impact of the virus on the population than men, female-led countries locked down earlier. They also say decisive and clear communication and participative leadership styles could have played a part.
“Our results clearly indicate that women leaders reacted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities,” said Professor Garikipati.
She adds though that while female leaders “were risk averse with regard to lives,” locking their countries down significantly earlier than male leaders also suggested they were “more willing to take risks in the domain of the economy.”
Antonio Filippin has explored gender differences in risk attitudes for IZA World of Labor. He says that “Belief in the existence of gender differences in risk attitudes is stronger than the evidence supporting it.” He writes how: “The economics literature has come to accept the generalization … that women are more risk averse than men”—a finding that has been used in labor economics studies to explain unequal gender-based outcomes in the labor market.
Filippin says that there “is no direct evidence demonstrating that greater female risk aversion can explain why women are under-represented in top-level positions in the labor market.” He suggests that “further research is needed to understand under what conditions women behave in a more risk-averse manner than men.”
Professors Garikipati and Kambhampati hope their study will “serve as a starting point to illuminate the discussion on the influence of national leaders in explaining the differences in country Covid-outcomes.”
Read more from IZA World of Labor on the gender divide and the Covid-19 pandemic.