Female leaders 'handled Covid-19 crisis better than men'

18 August 2020, 15:53

Angela Merkel (L) and Jacinda Ardern (R) have overseen lower Covid-19 death rates in Germany and New Zealand
Angela Merkel (L) and Jacinda Ardern (R) have overseen lower Covid-19 death rates in Germany and New Zealand. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Female leaders saved lives by acting "more quickly and decisively" when locking down their countries to prevent the spread of coronavirus, a study suggests.

People who live in nations with women in charge saw "systematically and significantly better" outcomes in relation to the pandemic than those with male leaders, according to the research.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump have both come under fire for their handling of the crisis, with criticisms ranging from locking down too late to lifting restrictions too soon.

Nations with female leaders, on the other hand, have been praised for acting swiftly and decisively, with the study's scientists claiming there is a "definite and consistent pattern" showing a lower number of Covid-19 deaths in women-led countries.

Examples include New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

Even after the likes of New Zealand and Germany – and the US for male leaders – were removed from the statistics, the case for the relative success of female leaders was still strengthened.

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The research, which accounted for a variety of factors and published by the World Economic Forum, looked to understand whether having a female in charge was beneficial in the first quarter of the pandemic so far.

Professor Supriya Garikipati of the University of Liverpool wrote: "Our results above clearly indicate that women leaders reacted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities.

"In almost all cases, they locked down earlier than male leaders in similar circumstances.

"While this may have longer-term economic implications, it has certainly helped these countries to save lives, as evidenced by the significantly lower number of deaths in these countries."

The scientists pointed towards "several incidents of risky behaviour" by men, including Mr Johnson's claim he was shaking the hands of "everybody" in a hospital looking after coronavirus patients weeks before his life-threatening brush with the disease.

However, Prof Garikipati stressed the study should not be interpreted as feeding the stereotype that women are supposedly more risk-averse, adding that the reality is far more complex.

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She argued that "women were less willing to take risks with lives but were more willing to accept risks in relation to the early lockdown of economies".

"It could well be that the relatively late lockdown decisions by male leaders may reflect male risk aversion to anticipated losses from locking down the economy," she added.

Another characteristic the researchers noted as improving the immediate outcome of each outbreak was the "empathetic and decisive" communication style used by female leaders.

However, as only 19 of the 149 nations in the study were led by women, the scientists recognised they needed to factor in these countries possibly having specific characteristics that helped them in their response to the pandemic.

Therefore, the study used a "nearest neighbour matching method" to compare similar nations on characteristics of GDP per capita, population, the proportion of people living in urban areas and the share of elderly citizens.

"After controlling for this, we find that female-led countries have significantly fewer deaths and also spread of Covid-19 than countries led by men," Prof Garikipati wrote.

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