Men and women worry really differently about the impact of COVID-19

New research shows that there are gender differences when it comes to fear about the impact of COVID-19. Men are more likely to be concerned about financial consequences from COVID-19 while women report greater fear and more negative expectations about health-related outcomes.

From the press release:

The researchers, Sheryl Ball and Alec Smith, conducted an online survey in April 2020 to measure emotions, behaviors and expectations connected to gender and the pandemic.The study was published in Frontiers in Psychology earlier this month.

“We found that women reported a higher fear of the health risks of COVID-19 than men. Men expressed more fear about the economic implications of the pandemic than women,” said Smith.

In the initial days of the pandemic, Ball and Smith were interested in how the COVID-19 pandemic would change people’s economic preferences — things like how willing someone is to take a financial risk or to trust someone. Previous research shows that women are often less willing to take risks than men.

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

“The big takeaway from our research is that people have economic as well as health care concerns about the pandemic,” said Smith. “We know that preventative measures like mask wearing are effective. We think that messages that encourage people to take these preventative measures might want to emphasize not only the health consequences and benefits, but also the economic benefits.”

Abstract of the paper:

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many people to suffer from emotional distress. Previous studies suggest that women process and express affective experiences, such as fear, with a greater intensity compared to men. We administered an online survey to a sample of participants in the United States that measures fear of COVID-19, perceptions about health and financial risks, and preventative measures taken. 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. However, women are more optimistic than men regarding the financial consequences of the pandemic. Women also report more negative emotional experiences generally during the pandemic, particularly in situations where other people or the government take actions that make matters worse. Though women report taking more preventative measures than men in response to the pandemic, gender differences in behavior are reduced after controlling for fear. These results shed light on how differences in emotional experiences of the pandemic may inform policy interventions.

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