Countries with women leaders suffered half as many COVID deaths on average compared to countries with male leaders, academics have found.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have received praise for their countries’ response to coronavirus, while US President Donald Trump has been criticised. But even with the best and worst outliers removed, statistical analysis of 194 countries by the University of Liverpool still showed that women leaders performed better.
Professor Supriya Garikipati said: “Our results 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.”
With only 19 countries out of 194 led by women, researchers created “nearest neighbour” countries based on a number of factors, such as GDP, population, population age, health expenditure, equality and openness to travel. So Leo Varadkar’s Ireland was compared to Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand; Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh was compared to Pakistan, led by Arif Alvi; and Ana Brnabić’s Serbia was compared to Israel, led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Professor Garikipati said: “Nearest neighbour analysis clearly confirms that when women-led countries are compared to countries similar to them along a range of characteristics, they have performed better, experiencing fewer cases as well as fewer deaths.”
Researchers found that women leaders tended to lock their countries down earlier. Rather than an example of gender stereotypes around risk aversion, the researchers argue that women leaders were willing to risk their economies to preserve human life.
The researchers argue that “having a clear, empathetic and decisive communication style made a significant difference to immediate outcomes of the COVID pandemic in women-led countries”.
Professor Garkipati said: “Our findings show that COVID outcomes are systematically and significantly better in countries led by women and, to some extent, this may be explained by the proactive policy responses they adopted. Even accounting for institutional context and other controls, being female-led has provided countries with an advantage in the current crisis.”
The authors hope that the paper will serve as a “starting point” in the debate about how national leaders affected the pandemic.