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Women followed rules more closely in Covid lockdown, study finds

Women spent more time on the phone and followed rules more closely in Covid lockdown but men bounced back better afterwards, study finds

  • The first lockdown in 2020 was a ‘live social experiment’, a study has shown
  • Experts looked at mobile phone data from 1.2million Austrians last year
  • Phone calls involving women lasted significantly longer than those by men 

Women spent more time on the phone and followed coronavirus lockdown rules more closely than man, a study has found.  

The first lockdown in 2020 was a ‘live social experiment’ that showed men are less likely to accept their movement being restricted and tend to return to normal more quickly than women, the research showed.

Experts at the Complexity Science Hub Vienna (CSH) looked at mobile phone data from 1.2 million Austrians between February and June last year.

Tobias Reisch, a researcher at the CSH said: ‘The total shutdown of public life was like a population-wide live experiment.’

Experts at the Complexity Science Hub Vienna (CSH) looked at mobile phone data from 1.2 million Austrians between February and June last year (file image)

In spring 2020, the CSH was given access to anonymous mobile data from a major Austrian internet service provider, which the scientists used to observe behaviour.

Mr Reisch added: ‘We were interested in the extent to which people supported the anti-corona measures imposed by the government. When we analysed the data by gender, we found surprisingly strong behavioural differences between men and women.

‘People made much longer phone calls right after the lockdown was imposed. Interestingly, they talked to fewer people than usual – but with these few, they spoke longer.’

The study found phone calls involving women lasted significantly longer but there were big differences depending on who they were talking to.

After the first lockdown in Austria was announced on March 16, 2020, women calling other women measured 1.5 times longer than before the pandemic began.

Whereas phone calls from men to women lasted nearly twice as long.

Using data gained from a large recreational area and a shopping mall in Vienna, the researchers found both regions were visited more by men during the lockdown (file image)

The first lockdown in 2020 was a ‘live social experiment’ that showed men are less likely to accept their movement being restricted and tend to return to normal more quickly than women, the research showed. Pictured, Oxford Street in London

The study also found that when women called men, they talked on the phone for 80 per cent longer, while the duration of calls between men only rose by 66 per cent.

Georg Heiler, a researcher at the CSH and the Vienna University of Technology, was responsible for processing data in the study that was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

He 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 the pre-existing social differences between men and women were amplified during the lockdown, with women going out far less than men.

Using data gained from a large recreational area and a shopping mall in Vienna, the researchers found both regions were visited more by men during the lockdown.

After the national measures were lifted, the CSH team found men returned more quickly to their pre-pandemic lives and behaviour patterns.

Stefan Thurner, the president of the CSH and the report’s co-author said: ‘This study shows once again that data – in this case, telecommunication data – allows us to gain social insights quickly and at low costs, without violating the anonymity of individuals.

‘We see people’s behaviour in the here and now without the need for large surveys of thousands of people.

‘On the one hand, this offers quantitative support for research questions in psychology and the social sciences – including interesting new questions emerging from data evaluations.’

Professor Thurner added: ‘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.’

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