Early data out of China, South Korea and Italy showed more men than women were dying from COVID-19, a pattern that has continued in many countries where data is available by sex and gender. It’s too early to know whether this has to do with the disease itself or environmental factors, including the likelihood of men taking preventative measures compared to women.
But this trend stands in contrast with the findings of a recent preprint study by American and British researchers, which has not been peer reviewed, that shows men are more likely to believe that they will be relatively unaffected by the coronavirus. As a result, men are less likely than women to wear a face covering.
A Gallup poll published on May 13 shows that 29 percent of men always wore a mask or cloth face covering in public, compared to 44 percent of women. On the other end of the spectrum, 38 percent of men never wore a mask or cloth face covering outside the home, compared to 25 percent of women.
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Those discrepancies don't exist when face coverings are made mandatory, according to the preprint. Still, men reported feeling a level of shame and stigma when wearing them. Men were more likely than women to agree with statements such as “wearing a face covering is not cool," "wearing a face covering is shameful" and "wearing a face covering is sign of weakness."
The findings suggest that these negative emotions may dissuade men from wearing face coverings if they are not mandatory, putting them at greater risk of infection. The stigma against men showing weakness by taking measures to protect themselves is an example of toxic masculinity, a definition of “being a man” that puts their own health and lives at risk.
In the preprint, researchers suggested that “future interventions to promote the use of a face covering among men can try to act on decreasing these negative emotions.”
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