Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Gendered Impact of the Coronavirus: Physical and Social Differences

Why the New Coronavirus May Kill More Men than Women

Men are more likely to die from new virus

New research from China has found that men, particularly middle-aged and older men, are having a harder time fighting off the virus than women. Chinese researchers found that while the infection rate among men and women is the same, the death rate among men is 2.8% compared with 1.7% for women.

According to Sabra Klein, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the pattern—men faring worse than women—is consistent with other viral respiratory infections. "Women fight them off better," she said.

Officials noticed this gender difference during the SARS and MERS outbreaks as well, according to Caryn Rabin. 

 

Why are men more likely to die from the new coronavirus?

According to researchers, there are a few reasons men are more likely to die from the new coronavirus.

Women have a heightened immune response

Research on previous outbreaks shows that women have stronger immune responses to coronaviruses.

Some researchers think the higher level of estrogen, which contributes to immunity, and the fact that women have two X chromosomes, which carry immune-related genes, could factor into women's heightened immune response ***

However, when the researchers blocked estrogen in the female mice and removed their ovaries, they were more likely to die from the virus

Men and women have different health behaviors, conditions

China has the largest population of smokers in the world at 316 million people, but while more than 50% of Chinese men smoke, only about 2% of Chinese women partake in the behavior.

Chinese men also have higher rates of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than women

Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunology at Yale University, added that men may have a "false sense of security" about coronavirus and similar diseases. When the outbreak first started, for instance, officials recommended that people wash their hands thoroughly and often to prevent infection, but multiple studies have found that men are less likely to wash their hands and use soap than women, according to Klein.

"We make these broad sweeping assumptions that men and women are the same behaviorally, in terms of comorbidities, biology and our immune system, and we just are not," he said.

LA Times, Why is the Coronovirus so Much More Deadly for Men Than Women?

Men are faring worse than women in the coronavirus pandemic, according to statistics emerging from across the world.

On Friday, White House COVID-19 Task Force director Dr. Deborah Birx cited a report from Italy showing that men in nearly every age bracket were dying at higher rates than women. Birx called it a “concerning trend.”

The apparent gender gap in Italy echoes earlier statistics from other hard-hit countries. While preliminary, early accounts have suggested that boys and men are more likely to become seriously ill than are girls and women, and that men are more likely to die.***

The emerging picture of male vulnerability to coronavirus may be easily explained by a clear gender disparity with social and cultural roots: Across the world, men are much more likely to smoke cigarettes. That damages their lungs and primes them for inflammation and further damage when they are battling an infection.***

But that’s not the whole story, said Dr. Stanley Perlman, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa who has studied coronavirus infection in mice.***

At the same time, the death rates of infected female mice shot up when their ovaries were removed, or when they got drugs that suppressed the activity of the hormone estrogen.

To Perlman, those dual findings strongly suggest that there’s something about estrogen that protects against the ravages of deadly coronaviruses — and he suspects it’s true for the new SARS-CoV-19 virus. ***

When it comes to fighting infection, he added, “we really need to study both sexes to understand susceptibility.”

The Atlantic, The Coronavirus is a Disaster for Feminism

Enough already. When people try to be cheerful about social distancing and working from home, noting that William Shakespeare and Isaac Newton did some of their best work while England was ravaged by the plague, there is an obvious response: Neither of them had child-care responsibilities.***

For those with caring responsibilities, an infectious-disease outbreak is unlikely to give them time to write King Lear or develop a theory of optics. A pandemic magnifies all existing inequalities (even as politicians insist this is not the time to talk about anything other than the immediate crisis). Working from home in a white-collar job is easier; employees with salaries and benefits will be better protected; self-isolation is less taxing in a spacious house than a cramped apartment. But one of the most striking effects of the coronavirus will be to send many couples back to the 1950s. Across the world, women’s independence will be a silent victim of the pandemic

Purely as a physical illness, the coronavirus appears to affect women less severely. But in the past few days, the conversation about the pandemic has broadened: We are not just living through a public-health crisis, but an economic one.

The evidence we do have from the Ebola and Zika outbreaks should inform the current response. In both rich and poor countries, campaigners expect domestic-violence rates to rise during lockdown periods. Stress, alcohol consumption, and financial difficulties are all considered triggers for violence in the home, and the quarantine measures being imposed around the world will increase all three. 

Researchers, including those I spoke with, are frustrated that findings like this have not made it through to policy makers, who still adopt a gender-neutral approach to pandemics. They also worry that opportunities to collect high-quality data which will be useful for the future are being missed.

The Coronavirus Crisis May Hit Women Harder Than Men

But in other, perhaps less obvious ways, the virus appears to disproportionately affect women. As the fight against COVID-19 continues, an increasing number of women around the world are on the front lines. Many of them will be expected to work longer hours, while juggling domestic responsibilities such as childcare

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2020/03/the-gendered-impact-of-the-coronavirus-physical-and-social-differences-.html

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