Did Women Leaders Do a Better Job Managing the Pandemic Than Their Male Counterparts?

A new study lead by Leah Windsor, a research assistant professor in the Institute for Intelligent Systems at the University of Memphis, examines whether countries with women leaders did a better job of managing the pandemic than countries led by men.

In the early days of the pandemic, successful mitigation efforts imposed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand and Angela Merkel in Germany among others, gave rise to the belief that women were better at managing a public health crisis than men. The authors note that “traits such as good listening skills, the tendency to seek input and counsel for major decisions, the ability to provide a big-picture overview of a situation, and proficiency in risk management” may lead to better crisis management results. And the authors note that “these traits are more commonly proscribed to women than in men.”

But the analysis of 175 countries around the world found that there were slightly lower reported fatality rates in countries led by women. But these results were not statistically significant.

The authors explain that “the perspective that women have been better leaders during the pandemic is rooted in selection bias, based on the selective reporting of cases where women-led countries have succeeded in pandemic management. These reports fail to acknowledge men-led countries that have done similarly well, while instead emphasizing carefully selected cases where men have not performed well.”

The analysis concludes by noting that “women who lead these countries are able to successfully manage crises like the pandemic not because they are women, but because they are leading countries more likely to elect women to the highest executive office in the first place, and because those countries have policy landscapes and priorities that pre-dispose them to manage risk better.”

Dr. Windsor is a graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where she majored in linguistics. She holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of Memphis and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Mississippi.

The full study, “Gender in the Time of COVID-19: Evaluating National Leadership and COVID-19 Fatalities,” was published on PLOS One. It may be accessed here.

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