Skip to main content

#WeAreTogether: Female led countries' COVID-19 outcomes 'systematically and significantly better' – University of Reading

Show access keys

#WeAreTogether: Female led countries' COVID-19 outcomes 'systematically and significantly better'

Release Date 19 August 2020

Female led countries, like New Zealand have had fewer COVID-19 deaths

Female national leaders locked down their countries earlier and suffered half as many COVID deaths on average as male leaders, according to analysis of nearly 200 countries led by the University of Reading.

With New Zealand now the first country to record zero cases over consecutive days and Germany the first to resume competitive top level sports, their respective female leaders have received plenty of praise, but researchers found that even when outliers like New Zealand and Germany – and the USA for male leaders - were removed from the statistics, the case for the relative success of female leaders was only strengthened.

Professor Uma Kambhampati, Head of the School of Politics, Economics & International Relations at the University of Reading led the study, which is published in CEPR and WEF Press. Working with Professor Supriya Garikipati, Management School Developmental Economistat the University of Liverpool. she analysed differing policy responses and subsequent total COVID cases and deaths across 194 countries for the first quarter of the pandemic, up to May 19.

Professor Kambhampati said: "This study is the most comprehensive yet of the human decisions being made by global leaders to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our analysis shows that the decisions taken to lockdown countries earlier by their female leaders has saved lives. The months ahead will tell us what the economic toll of these decisions is.”

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.”

To reach this conclusion, the academics introduced a number of variables to help analyse the raw data and draw reliable country comparisons.

They considered GDP, total population, urban population density and the proportion of elderly residents; they also looked at annual health expenditure per capita, openness to international travel and general level of societal gender equality.

And with only 19 of the 194 countries being led by women, they created ‘nearest neighbour’ countries across the above demographics to balance out the small sample size, leading to comparisons such as Serbia (female-led) and Israel (male-led); New Zealand (female) and Ireland (male); Germany (female) and the UK (male) and Bangladesh (female) and Pakistan (male).

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.”

On average, the researchers found that female-led countries locked down after significantly fewer deaths than male led countries.

While this may play into gender stereotypes around risk aversion, Professor Garikipati said: “While women leaders were risk averse with regard to lives, they were prepared to take significant risks with their economies by locking down early. Risk aversion may manifest differently in different domains, with women leaders being significantly more risk averse in the domain of human life, but more risk taking in the domain of the economy.”

Interestingly, when researchers applied the ‘openness to travel’ control, they found that female-led countries did not experience significantly lower COVID cases but did report lower deaths, suggesting better policies and compliance in these countries.

And to further check the robustness of their findings, Professor Garikipati and her team dropped the countries most often referred to – Germany, New Zealand and the USA – from the data to check for undue influence, but found this only strengthened the results.

They were also unable to include the female-led Taiwan (500 cases, seven deaths in the research period) as the World Bank no longer provides data for it separately from China.

We use Javascript to improve your experience on, but it looks like yours is turned off. Everything will still work, but it is even more beautiful with Javascript in action. Find out more about why and how to turn it back on here.
We also use cookies to improve your time on the site, for more information please see our cookie policy.