‘Shameful, not cool, a sign of weakness’: Men are less likely to wear face masks to protect against coronavirus, study finds

Men are less likely to believe they’ll be seriously impacted by COVID-19, despite data to the contrary, new research finds

A man wears a patriotic face cover as businesses in the flower district in Skid Row reopen in time for Mother’s Day in Los Angeles.


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As the coronavirus death toll ticks up and some states ease their restrictions, a new study suggests that men might be more likely to leave their face coverings at home.

Men in the U.S. report less intention than women to wear face coverings, especially in counties that don’t mandate wearing them, according to a paper authored by researchers from Middlesex University London in the U.K. and the Mathematical Science Research Institute in Berkeley, Calif. This, the authors say, suggests that making face coverings mandatory “has a larger effect on men than on women.”


Men appear to be more severely impacted by the virus: In places such as China, Italy, Spain and New York City, men have died from COVID-19 at far higher rates than women did.

Men are also less likely to believe they’ll be seriously impacted by COVID-19, despite data to the contrary, the research found. “The fact that men less than women intend to wear a face covering can be partly explained by the fact that men more than women believe that they will be relatively unaffected by the disease,” co-authors Valerio Capraro and Hélène Barcelo wrote.

This finding is “particularly ironic,” they said, as men appear to be more severely impacted by the virus: In places such as China, Italy, Spain and New York City, men have died from COVID-19 at far higher rates than women did.

The study also found that men are more likely to report feeling negative emotions while wearing a face covering. “Men more than women agree that wearing a face covering is shameful, not cool, a sign of weakness, and a stigma; and these gender differences also mediate gender differences intentions to wear a face covering,” Capraro and Barcelo wrote. That finding, they said, indicates that interventions to promote men’s use of face-coverings work to decrease those emotions.

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The study’s sample of 2,459 Amazon
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Mechanical Turk recruits was “quite heterogeneous” and representative of people in urban areas, but not representative overall, the authors wrote: Men were “slightly overrepresented” (51% vs. 48% women), while people aged 25 to 54 and white people were overrepresented, and the average respondent seemed to be relatively left-leaning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommend that everyone wear a cloth face covering (and not a medical-grade mask meant for a health-care worker) over their nose and mouth when they go out in public.

Also see:Mike Pence acknowledges he made a mistake by visiting patients without a mask, but health-care workers say Mayo Clinic has serious soul-searching to do

Other surveys have also shown men’s relative reluctance to don face coverings to protect against COVID-19: One Gallup/Knight Foundation poll conducted April 14 to 20, for example, found that 29% of men said they had “always” worn a mask or cloth face covering outside their home in the past seven days, compared to 44% of women.


Women were reportedly more likely to wear face masks during both the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong and the H1N1 outbreak, according to a 2014 literature review.

Gender differences in protective measures against respiratory infections also have some historic precedent: Women were reportedly more likely to wear face masks during both the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong and the H1N1 outbreak, according to a 2014 literature review published in the Singapore Medical Journal. (In at least two other studies included in the review, meanwhile, gender did not appear to play a role in mask-wearing behavior.)

“With regard to gender, it has been postulated that women are generally less willing to take risks, and are thus more compliant with preventive behavior than their male counterparts,” the authors wrote.

The 1918 influenza pandemic presented an opportunity for public-health authorities “to advance a more manly style of health education,” according to a 2010 historical analysis of public-health lessons gleaned from the pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million worldwide.

“Some in the public health field felt that older forms of public outreach were too old-fashioned to reach the modern men and boys who now posed a special weakness in the chain of infection control,” the author wrote.

“The influenza pandemic offered a teaching moment in which masculine resistance to hygiene rules associated with mothers, school marms, and Sunday school teachers could be replaced with a more modern, manly form of public health,” she added, “steeped in discipline, patriotism, and personal responsibility.”

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