Culture matters a lot in successfully managing a pandemic – and many countries that did well had one thing in common

Culture matters more than a leader’s gender in how a nation survives a global pandemic, according to a study I conducted on gender and COVID-19 management, which was published in December in the journal PLOS ONE.

My co-authors and I examined COVID-19 cases and deaths in 175 countries, 16 of which are led by women. We identified no statistically significant differences in deaths based on the gender of the country’s leader.

Instead, we found that pandemic outcomes hinged primarily on how egalitarian a country is. Countries that prioritize the well-being of society in general have have fared better over the past year than more individualistic cultures.

Collective action may also come more naturally in egalitarian societies, where people grow up with the understanding that everyone’s well-being depends on the well-being of the community. When the pandemic hit, egalitarian places made policies promoting behaviors that benefited society, like mask-wearing, and penalized acts that jeopardized public health.

Well before the pandemic, egalitarian countries also generally had universal health care, paid sick leave and subsidized child care. These policies made it easier for people to stay home and protect themselves – and others – from COVID-19.

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