How do men and women respond to a crisis?
A look at their behavior during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 offers a clue: Women flocked to their phones for long conversations with a few trusted contacts.
Men, chafing at being cooped up, headed out and about as soon as they could, European researchers report.
“The total shutdown of public life was like a population-wide live experiment,” said researcher Tobias Reisch of Complexity Science Hub Vienna (CSH). “We were interested in the extent to which people supported the anti-Corona measures imposed by the government. When we analyzed the data by gender, we found surprisingly strong behavioral differences between men and women.”
For the study, CSH looked at mobile phone data from 1.2 million Austrians. The records revealed that people made much longer phone calls after the lockdown was imposed.
“Interestingly, they talked to fewer people than usual — but with these few, they spoke longer,” Reisch said.
After Austria locked down on March 16, 2020, women-to-women calls were up to 1.5 times longer than before, and calls from men to women were nearly twice as long as before.
When women called men, they talked 80% longer, while the length of calls between men rose by 66%, the findings showed.
Researcher Georg Heiler said, “Of course, we don’t know the content or purpose of these calls. Yet, literature from the social sciences provides evidence — mostly from small surveys, polls, or interviews — that women tend to choose more active strategies to cope with stress, such as talking with others. Our study would confirm that.”
The researchers also found that differences in mobility between men and women before the lockdown were amplified during the lockdown, with women limiting trips outside their home more and for longer than men.
Men flocked to a large recreational area in Vienna and a shopping mall during the lockdown, phone data showed. And once restrictions were lifted, they returned to their usual pre-pandemic habits.
On the one hand, the authors said their study offers support for research in psychology and the social sciences — including a look at new questions from data evaluations.
“On the other hand, we are providing concrete information for policymakers which can either be used for planning in an acute crisis, or flow into a more targeted health planning, or could even lead to considerations on how to achieve a more gender-equitable society,” said CSH president Stefan Thurner.
The findings were published online Sept. 28 in Scientific Reports.
For answers to common questions about COVID-19, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCE: Complexity Science Hub Vienna, news release, Sept. 28, 2021