COVID lockdown demonstrated old-fashioned gender behavioral patterns

The lockdown served as a live social experiment, Austrian researchers say, and revealed men-women behavioral differences.

A woman wears a protective mask during the coronavirus pandemic (photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
A woman wears a protective mask during the coronavirus pandemic
(photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)

In the spring of 2020, Austria entered its first coronavirus lockdown, alongside most of the pandemic-struck world. A study by the Complexity Science Hub (CSH) Vienna studied the communication patterns of citizens in lockdown, and found dramatic differences in the way men and women respond to crisis.

When the lockdown was first imposed in March, telephone communications saw a drastic rise in duration – but mostly by women. Women-to-women calls were 1.5 times longer than before the lockdown, and calls from men to women were nearly twice as long. Conversations between two men lengthened as well, but only by 66%.

“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,” said Georg Heiler, one of the authors of the paper that was published in Scientific Reports. “Our study would confirm that.”

 EMPTY JAFFA Street in Jerusalem, during the nationwide lockdown last Rosh Hashanah. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) EMPTY JAFFA Street in Jerusalem, during the nationwide lockdown last Rosh Hashanah. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Hub, which operates within an international network of institutions and attempts to address complex issues of the 21st century, saw the drastic change in public lifestyle imposed by the virus as an opportunity to conduct a social experiment on communications and behavioral patterns.

The researchers received access to anonymized telecommunications data from a major Austrian service and analyzed phone call frequency and duration, as well as travel patterns of the users before, during and after lockdown.

Besides the length of phone calls, the data revealed an interesting trend regarding mobility. While women tended to adhere to government directives and remain static (based on their communications location data), men were more likely to be mobile and flout restrictions, even spending time at a large recreational center in Vienna and a shopping mall that were tested, both of which demonstrated a higher male presence during lockdowns.

Furthermore, men were found to return quickly to their original patterns when the lockdown lifted, while women took more time to adapt to the change.

The study was conducted on 1.2 million Austrians – about 15 percent of the population, by Tobias Reisch and Heiler.

“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,” said CHF President Stefan Thurner.

“We are providing concrete information for policymakers which can either be used for planning in an acute crisis… or could even lead to considerations on how to achieve a more gender-equitable society.”