Did countries with women leaders do better in curbing the Covid-19 pandemic?

May 17, 2020 • 9:00 am

The pandemic has seemed to exacerbate identity politics, as I’ve now seen many articles on the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on minorities (true), the fact that this reflects structural racism (dubious), and now at least six articles on how the countries that are doing better in fighting the pandemic are those run by women (I haven’t done the stats, but certainly women-led countries seem to be among the best responders).

Here are three article on the latter issue: one from the increasingly woke New York Times, one from The Hill and one from Forbes (click on the screenshots to read). They offer a consistent thesis—female leadership has made a difference—but advance different possible reasons.

The Hill:



The underlying thesis of these articles, as I take it from most of the writing, is that women have characteristics that make them better leaders in a situation like this. Evaluating this thesis, one has to ask four questions:

1.) Is it true that countries with women leaders have done better than those with men leaders in fighting the coronavirus? That requires some kind of statistical analysis, for the analyses focus primarily on seven countries with female heads of state: Taiwan, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland. And indeed, these countries have done better in fighting the virus than many others led by men. But there are other countries led by women as well, which are omitted from the analysis. Ideally, you’d want to do a rank order correlation between some measure of successful mitigation of the pandemic with whether the countries are led by women. Sadly, there are only 29 women-led countries in the world, and many have no data on coronavirus response.

But I would guess that yes, the countries above did do better than male-led countries. Note, though, that four of the seven are Scandinavian and two are islands. This leads to the question about whether it’s the not qualities of the leaders themselves, but the geographical situation, which in the case of the small countries Iceland, New Zealand, and Taiwan, makes control easier, or whether the culture of those countries simultaneously is more receptive to women leaders and to a good governmental response to the virus, which might be the case in Scandinavia (see #2).

It’s curious that the NYT says we shouldn’t draw conclusions from a small sample, but then does so, concluding that women politicians are able to violate expected gender norms (aggression, etc.) more easily, being more “caring and thoughtful”; and that that kind of leadership can be really beneficial in situations like this one. Here’s their caveat which they then proceed to violate.

We should resist drawing conclusions about women leaders from a few exceptional individuals acting in exceptional circumstances. But experts say that the women’s success may still offer valuable lessons about what can help countries weather not just this crisis, but others in the future.

2.) (related to the above). Do countries with a propensity to elect women leaders also tend to have social policies that were more useful in combating coronavirus? This is a plausible alternative hypothesis to singling out characteristics of women themselves. The New York Times, for example, floats the hypothesis that countries that are more diverse are more able to draw on different useful sources of advice (this is different from saying that women themselves are more willing to seek useful outside counsel, which we consider below):

Varied information sources, and leaders with the humility to listen to outside voices, are crucial for successful pandemic response, Devi Sridhar, the Chair of Global Health at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, wrote in an op-ed in the British Medical Journal. “The only way to avoid ‘groupthink’ and blind spots is to ensure representatives with diverse backgrounds and expertise are at the table when major decisions are made,” she wrote.

Having a female leader is one signal that people of diverse backgrounds — and thus, hopefully, diverse perspectives on how to combat crises — are able to win seats at that table. In Germany, for instance, Ms. Merkel’s government considered a variety of different information sources in developing its coronavirus policy, including epidemiological models; data from medical providers; and evidence from South Korea’s successful program of testing and isolation. As a result, the country has achieved a coronavirus death rate that is dramatically lower than those of other Western European countries.

Note that two hypotheses are conflated here: governments that tend to elect female leaders are more diverse and more open to considering different perspectives, or that the women leaders themselves are more open to considering different perspectives. Of course I have no expertise in this area, but this question leads to the third hypothesis, which is actually two hypotheses:

3.) Women leaders themselves have qualities different from those of male leaders, and these qualities have led them to be more successful in fighting the pandemic.

If the answer to this question is “yes”—and all the articles I’ve seen have tentatively settled on this answer—then there are two subquestions.

a. Do women have the better skills for this because of cultural influences (i.e., socialization/acculturation)?


b. Do women have better skills for this because their genetics (and evolution) have given them a propensity to behave differently from men?

Blank slaters (those Lefties who tend to adhere to a “yes” answer for question #3) would go for answer a.). Women have those skills, they’d argue, because they are acculturated or socialized to behave in certain ways. Although I believe that men and women have different personalities and ways of approaching problems because of their genes, that answer is anathema to those who think there are any hard-wired differences promoting different behaviors (or brain organization) in men versus women. To such people, admitting genetic differences between the sexes promotes sexism (it of course need not do so), so they resist the considerable scientific evidence for hard-wired behavioral differences because it supposedly leads to an ideological conclusion they don’t like. (One bit of evidence: the effects of testosterone.)

But I digress; I’ve said all this before.  To answer the question, I’ll note that yes, I think women and men have different leadership styles, though this is based on my anecdotal observation. Women are less aggressive, more empathic, and more willing to seek a consensus.  Throughout my life some of my best friends—of the nonromantic genre—have been women. If I have a problem, for instance, the usual response of a male friend is to try to find a solution: “Do X”. Women, on the other hand, tend to listen and ask questions, without immediately telling you what to do. And many times it’s better to hear someone tell you they understand rather than tell you what to do. For you won’t follow advice unless you’ve more or less decided on it already.

I also think these differences are at least in part genetic. Men, I believe, have evolved to be more aggressive: to compete with other males (once for women, now for status and jobs), and to have a ‘take-charge’ attitude.  I see this in my graduate seminars, where women student are more likely to seek consensus and less likely to interrupt, while males are more aggressive and often try to take credit for an idea that a woman has already proposed.

This suggests, but does not of course prove, that women would be more likely to gather a diversity of opinions from outside sources in times of pandemics. To judge that, you’d have to actually look what the different governments and leaders did. You can make anecdotal arguments that women like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern (a terrific leader) did seek more outside counsel, but I’d like documentation rather than anecdotes.

4.) If men and women do have different leadership styles, did those styles really better help them curb the pandemic? Yes, women could be more empathic, but can you do some kind of harder analysis to show that a difference in the behavior of leaders of different sexes were in play during the pandemic? Again, I’m not sure of the answer, for it would require looking at almost every factor that differentiated countries with a more successful versus less successful coronavirus response.

I guess my main doubts are twofold.  First, can we show statistically that women leaders did produce a better response to the pandemic than did male leaders? (I suspect they did.) Second, was it the personality characteristics of those women leaders that led to this result? I am agnostic about that but certainly not, even as a demonized white male, opposed to that conclusion.

In the end, if women’s personality traits made them better at curbing the pandemic than did the traits of males (e.g., Trump’s arrogance, domineering behavior, and unwilling to listen), then I think much of that difference is evolutionary. That would rankle the Control Left, however—and whether that difference be due to culture, genes, or an interacction between the two. In fact, if they admit that women are socialized to have the salubrious traits, that would go against their idea that we should not socialize people into having different gender roles (or we should socialize everyone to have “female” traits). And if they admit that some of the difference is based on genes and evolution, well, that puts them deeper into the Control Left swamp: the dreaded Evolutionary Psychology.

I’m of the different-behavior school, but not sure whether the differences were causal in mitigating the pandemic. If they were, then I think evolution played a role.

But are there also male qualities that would make men produce better responses in the face of some other challenges? Surely there must be some problems for which the male style of leadership would produce better results than the female style. If not, then one is forced into the rather unsavory position of saying: “Men and women are the same except when women are better”, or, more permissively, “Men and women are different, but women’s differences are always better for society.”

As always, I invite readers to weigh in below.

h/t: cesar

86 thoughts on “Did countries with women leaders do better in curbing the Covid-19 pandemic?

  1. My initial thought in response to the question was something along the lines of number two. But PCC(E) makes good points for the other arguments.

    That said, I’d take Obama leading the US during this pandemic any day of the week.

  2. Isn’t there a small problem called Belgium? Prime minister: Sophie Wilmes, minister of health: Maggie Celeste Louise De Block.
    Death from coronavirus per million inhabitants: 788.39. The next worst is Spain with 589.91 per million.

      1. Minister of health (a woman in the case of Belgium) should be the main adviser of the prime minister. And I guess that both prime minister and minister of health have to look at the experts and choose advisers among them. Such choice may show bad or good judgement. I just can’t understand what their sex has to do with it. During my long life I’ve met equal number of incompetent and stupid men and women.

        1. Yes, we can and are equally as dumb as pne another no surprises there. A good team around you in the time of crisis could be down to luck of who was available.

    1. Yes, I’d agree that Belgium is a counter-example.

      There is however the claim by them that they are much more thoroughly reporting deaths caused by the virus, quite likely less stringent criteria (and undoubtedly also dishonest in e.g. South Dakota). That claim was to some extent backed up by statistics looking at the excess deaths this year for various countries compared to earlier recent years. Belgium’s were nearly identical. Most other western countries had much higher statistical excess than their reported coronavirus caused deaths. That however at best might lower Belgium’s high number down to 400 or so; or, more honestly, raise most others.

      So still a counter-example to women vs. men as leaders. I think the attitudes in public about the virus and about voting for women are often highly correlated without either being a cause of the other, though one way that seems obvious without statistics.

        1. And, if similar to earlier numbers, that will be nearly the same as the number of ‘corona-deaths’, something untrue for most other countries with what should be reliable reporting.

          1. So could you, please, give me the reliable sources with data of nearly identical mortality in Belgium?

              1. Thanks, though I still can’t see the data about the lack of excess mortality in Belgium while both Financial Times and Brussels Times give the data about a very high numbers of excess death.

              2. The bottom line says that Belgium had then:

                50% excess to the normal # of deaths

                5,300 excess deaths in numbers
                (so presumably slightly over 15,000 total #deaths, when normally it would be a bit more than 10,000 total)

                6,330 ‘corona deaths’ reported
                (so actually MORE than statistically normal, but that is not so much more as to be at all ludicrous)

                Whereas, for example, the UK line had, respectively,

                67% more than normal, calculated from 53,300 more than normal, whereas just 36,586 reported to be virus caused.

                Rounding off to nearest thousand, total deaths in UK would be about 133,000, so that the 53,000 is about
                67/100 x (133,000-53,000),
                the last difference, 80,000 being the statistical estimate for the expected total number of deaths in normal times. The 53,000 is approx. 67% of 80,000.

                But here, corona deaths were claimed to be about 17,000 LESS than the excess, as compared to about 1,000 more for Belgium.
                And most countries similarly underestimated, all but the bottom few countries in the table.

                Does that make sense of the table for you?

              3. Thanks again. The difference of 16% between the data in Financial Times and the data in NYT may depend on different period taken into consideration. Anyhow, 66% or 50%, Belgium cannot be shown as an example of exemplary dealing with the pandemics because… women. Probably that’s why the articles about which this post in WEIT is didn’t include Belgium.

    2. You cannot compare Belgium’s Covid death rate numbers to the numbers of other countries.
      Belgium counts any death that is even remotely suspicious of Covid as a Covid death, without any testing. More than half of their Covid deaths come from old age homes where the patients were not tested.
      They say that they are transparent and that their numbers are not so much inflated, as the other’s numbers a serious underestimate. They might even have a point there (IMMO).
      A better counterexample would be Sweden, with a ‘feminist’ government and a dismal death rate.

    3. HI Malgorzata, thank you for your many sharp comments throughout the years. MORE, please!

      In terms of articles such as these, it has become very clear that FACTS are not their pivot, but ideology. (NYTimes notorious “1619 Project” is its ne plus ultra.)

      And if something can be made to fit progressive ideology, no matter how sloppy the fit, it will be shoehorned into it.

      Now here is something that should really be getting huge attention, but is being casually noted: That again and again covid-19 seems to be more lethal to men than women.

      But that might lead to discussions of genetic differences. And you know how that would be received.

    1. Well we here in NZ just went back down to Level 2 restrictions (which are fairly mild). However we haven’t won the war, just repelled the first attack. We’ve managed to get back to Square One. We’ve avoided the massive surge of infection but our borders are still closed and we’re almost as vulnerable as before – almost, because our systems for testing and tracing cases, and our supply chains for protective equipment, are probably a bit better now than they were at the start.

      Since tourism is (was) a significant part of our economy, trying to restart things without fresh surges of infection is going to be tricky. We won’t be out of the woods until a vaccine is developed.

      I still give our government full credit for acting promptly and decisively – could’ve been even quicker but not by much. And our opposition didn’t do a Donald Trump and try and sabotage their efforts for political point-scoring.

      As for the women leaders vs men thing, I think that’s probably purely coincidental, and at a different moment in history it could have been the opposite way round.


      1. Re tourism (and NNB: joking!!), maybe the airline employees should very directly herd all the tourists out of their planes (and back into them) and immediately into the ubiquitous campervans (sardine-can-sized-Winnebagos, though the one we had was bigger than I expected). These vans should be modified with ceiling fire sprayers equipped with a virus killer not water, operable from outside, once the tourists are off home in the plane. And of course they have been locked in the van for the holiday duration.

      2. Our PM in NZ certainly can project sincerity, caring and a we’re-all-in-this-together feeling, if the one Covid-19 speech I watched is any guide, but she and her cabinet did not act promptly, for some time have seemed to be prisoners of the Ministry of Health, and one of the reasons she has given for acting strongly, after a delay, was a phone call from a friend about how bad things were in the UK – does this count as seeking advice from a range of sources? From the outset, rules for the level 4 lock-down had enough obvious anomalies to suggest not a whole lot of thought and consultation with interested parties went into them.

        There are far too many variables at work here, the international data are far too noisy, and the epidemic still has the Southern Hemisphere flu season to run, so, like you, I wouldn’t draw any conclusions about gender effectiveness in leadership, though the PM could credibly say that her response was weakened by her useless male Minister of Health.

        1. I am a NZder, in contrast to your view I believe the Govt acted with timing and relevance especially when you consider the pace. You cannot shove a policy (as you saw) in place, when the people on the ground are not up to speed and the infrastructure is not in place. It was not perfect, adjustments had to be made. Kiwis were arriving back and complaining about no information but I can tell you it was there (airport) they just didnt notice which is common in airports. Who reads the signage with HEALTH contacts etc… boring, they wanted a personal conciliation… jeeze.
          Ardern handled it better than most with controlled appeal to kiwis and not full of personal preference and opinions like some. Bloomfield was very measured as well, stay calm and be kind. That may erk some but it was reassuring to most.

          1. I’d agree with that. Certainly the Government managed to carry 99% of Kiwis with them (there were inevitably a few defaulters but most of them tried to hide their defaulting or felt their circumstances were exceptional or their infringements minor, they didn’t set out to openly defy the measures).

            And as I said, the Opposition did not (and probably didn’t wish to) try to make political capital out of undermining the measures.

            Things might have been very different had we had the toxic political climate current in the US.


    2. Very interesting. If we look at the different countries we can draw some conclusions:
      – Lockdowns are effective at ‘flattening the curve, especially if done early, giving healthcare services time to properly organise and prepare.
      – The ‘Herd immunity’ tactics comes at a horrendously high price of avoidable deaths (as illustrated by three countries that -at least initially- went with it: the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden),
      – ‘Social distancing’, masks, and the like can be effective adjuvants in flattening the curve.
      – Travel bans or restrictions in isolation (sorry for the pun) are basically useless, can buy a few days at best.
      – Massive scale testing and tracing, especially if done early, appears to be able to actually stop the epidemic in its tracks.

      1. I assume Boris’ profligate handshaking was before he ended up underneath a ventilator himself. Perhaps it was too close to the bone to put that in the video–certainly not for me to point it out.

        The country that just brexited will soon have a worse (deaths per million) number than those who stayed, maybe except Spain, we’ll see.

  3. #2 seems demonstrable and likely. Agnostic on #3 and 4. But another question: Are those promoting the idea that women are instrinsically a better fit here (whether through biology or through socialization)the same progressives who recoil in horror at the suggestion that men might be a better fit (whether through biology or socialization) for certain programming or STEM fields?

    1. Of course they are, and this kind of pointless virtue signalling and hypocrisy helps to make it more difficult for the potentially moderate right to hold their noses and vote out Trumpists at all levels of government this fall. It’s as if the left is determined to keep reminding the potential swing voters why it is they wanted to stick their electoral fingers in someone’s eye in the first place.

  4. I think it is probably a wasted study to attempt to answer the question and the solution would be hard to determine. Changing the mind of men is highly unlikely and those minds are pretty much already made anyway. The best way to determine if having women in charge would be a better outcome is to simply do it. Fat chance there as well. If the Females are doing better with the virus in some countries, excuses will be made to disagree. Just like it was stated in the post.

    Lets go back to the earlier pandemic in 1918. Only, at that time, women did not even have the right to vote. Come on women, hurry up and catch up.

  5. Another hypothesis not considered here: natural selection. It could be that these female leaders got into these leadership positions because they are exceptional individuals who work harder and are more talented than many of the men who get into similar positions. I’ve seen much evidence in support of the hypothesis than women need to work much harder and achieve much more than men to be given the same credit. The world is still very sexist, even if unconsciously, and holds women to a higher standard than it does men. The voting public seem to have an unlimited capacity to overlook “flaws” in male leadership contenders whilst roasting female leadership contenders for mush lesser flaws. Hillary Clinton is a great example of this. When it comes to some of the male leaders currently leading certain very prominent Western Countries, there is no denying that the bar is set very very low indeed! Could you imagine the US or the UK electing female versions Johnson (doesn’t know his stuff, missed many crucial meetings, forgot to order PPE, has an unspecified number of children by at least 3 different women, led country down ludicrous “herd immunity” pathway, bragged about shaking hands with Coronavirus patients, passed on Coronavirus to potentially thousands of people including heavily pregnant partner, got sick with Coronavirus, almost died from Coronavirus!) or Trump (doesn’t know his stuff, forgot to order PPE, probably a rapist, definitely a sexual offender, thinks you could treat disease by injecting self with bleach, remains miraculously undead from Coronavirus, 100 tweets in a single night about Flynn while nation at height of pandemic, seems intent on spreading conspiracy theories), and “Scotty from marketing”, who isn’t great either. None of these come anywhere close to the sort of leadership skills demonstrated by Ardern, Merkel and the other women in office!

      1. I think largely because people don’t like the adjective. it suggests they are being treated like cattle and they don’t know that this term has been used in infectious diseases research in many species for many years. now people are using the much more cuddly synonym ‘community immunity’ which is a lot more acceptable

        1. “I think largely because people don’t like the adjective. it suggests they are being treated like cattle . . . .”

          Well, then, they should be no less offended by the words “politics,” “political,” “poll,” “polled heifer,” “police,” “polite” (as in docile cattle), “hoi polloi” (“the herd”), assuming they trouble themselves with etymology. As I see it, political science is the science of human herd management.

      2. I would not call it ludicrous, but it has shown in practice to come at a very high price. And it is not yet known whether there actually is immunity, and if there is (there probably is*) how long (or short) it lasts.

        [*there are some indications that re-infections are doing worse than initial ones, but that has not been properly established]

      3. Herd immunity is a useful concept. Given a reliable reproduction number, and a reliable case fatality rate, we can use it to generate a quick and dirty estimate of just how bad an epidemic is likely to be. Useful for quick policy decisions, or for scaring the crap out of myself when I started running back of the envelope guestimations back in late January.

        But as a public health policy it is absurd because, in the absence of vaccinations, it maximises the number of deaths. Counter intuitively, it also comes with the largest economic impact, and the slowest economic recovery. We know this from empirical studies of past pandemics.

        The polity I’ve given the closest scrutiny is Australia. The most conservative figure I’ve been able to find for the cost of deaths alone from pursuing a herd immunity strategy in Australia is 1.108 trillion dollars just from deaths. 225k deaths, and also 70% to 90% of the economic contraction we have seen from our current policy. At least 18 months economic downturn. 2% GDP loss for international tourism. This is already above 50% of Australian GDP.

        Our current policy has cost us 98 deaths and an estimated 90 billion dollars in lost economic activity(estimates from the Grattan Institute), around the same in government expenditure so far, plus the loss of 2% GDP from international tourism. It is also estimated there will be up to 7780 extra suicides, at an estimated cost of around 38 billion dollars, using the Australian Government’s financial valuation of a life. This is about a fifth of the cheapest estimate of pursuing herd immunity.

        Compare that with Sweden, who have around 100 times our fatality rate, still haven’t reached herd immunity, and who increasingly appear to be failing to protect their economy. They are gambling that there won’t be an effective vaccine before they reach herd immunity. That infection will give long lasting immunity – uncertain, but unlikely. That the number of silent infections in Sweden are at least an order of magnitude higher than the measured rates in other polities, highly unlikely. And that subsequent reinfection will be mild. At the moment the reverse seems to be the case. They also seem to think that herd immunity will be reached at around 20%, which is probably 3 to 4 fold too low. Time will tell, but they appear to have backed a loser.

        Asia on the other hand went with the A plan. Early intervention, proper quarantine and cordon sanitaire. Largest upfront cost, lowest total cost. Least deaths. Requires leadership.

      4. To add to what Ratabago said:

        We didn’t know enough about the virus, and still don’t know enough, to know whether immunity is even a thing. It is in the same family of viruses as the common cold, so reinfection may well be possible.

        And part of what makes reinfection possible is having a large population of virons.

        The more virons you have, the higher the likelihood of new strains then reinfecting the previously infected.

        In other words rather than producing herd immunity, the “herd immunity” approach can actually undermine future vaccines by allowing the virus to develop new strains that get around any immunity a vaccine might confer.

        These strains can be even deadlier than the original.

    1. Fortunately for Australia “Scotty from Marketing” didn’t have the final say. The States rebelled, without quite leaving the National Cabinet. Not surprising as the States would have had to carry the economic burden and much of the blame for his apparent Netherlands/Sweden approach of slow soft stepping up of social distancing. We could have been another herd immunity disaster story. I never did quite work out what his plan was because he never quite made it explicit, changed it from day to day, cherry picked, took “scientific advice” from a political appointee to a policy position, and pussyfooted around going as slow as he could because “The Economy.”

      But those States were lead by a mixture of men and women, Conservatives and Labor. All of them did a pretty reasonable job. What they had in common was that they put public health outcomes first, and followed the actual science. Pity Scotty didn’t do that back in late January, instead of indulging in security theatre at our airports. We could have probably kept our internal economy open, and dodged much of the economic hardship closing down has caused. But Scotty will never understand that that hardship is a direct result of his own bad decisions.

      And, of course, now he is taking credit for how well the States have done.

      One of the nice things about Merkel and Ardern is that they have been clear, largely consistent, and sympathetic in delivering their message. And it has been a public health care message. I think this has made people generally more compliant with their policies, and fed into their better than average outcomes. Trump and Boris look pretty shabby by these criteria.

  6. I think point two is one of the dumbest and most dishonest ideas proffered. The authors proposing this intentionally leave out of their calculation the many countries that have elected female heads of state despite their cultures being significantly more sexist than any Western nation’s. Countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, The Philippines, Bangladesh, India, and many more (this is far from an exhaustive list). Meanwhile, there are many other countries (e.g. Burundi, Rwanda) where women became heads of state based on governmental choices, but surely in such patriarchal countries, this should be seen as a sign that people in general were still willing to have women as leaders, even if these particular leaders weren’t directly elected.

    This is something I also bring up when people argue that the only reason the US has not yet had a female President is to sexism. Surely one cannot claim that the US has a more sexist culture than, say, India or Pakistan.

    1. I would be curious too to look at the leadership styles of women leaders in these various countries. Are there places that would be willing to elect a woman who leads more ‘like a man’ but not ‘like a woman’?

    2. Plus if you look beyond the ‘pandemic snapshot’ the UK has had two female Prime Ministers (the effective but terrifying Margaret Thatcher and the ineffective and useless Theresa May (in my opinion)), and has had a female Head of State for decades.

      1. Having lived in the UK through the premierships of both Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May, I am not convinced that either of them would have made a good job of handling the pandemic. May was, as you say, utterly ineffective, having painted herself into a corner over Brexit. Thatcher famously declared “there’s no such thing as society”, and I suspect that she would have been happy to let coronavirus sweep through the country killing the old and vulnerable.

        1. Regarding your incomplete quotation from Margaret Thatcher:

          A comment from a Woman’s Own interview in 1987 is often repeated, but rarely in context: ”There is no such thing as society”. Its relevance was made explicit with the publication of the second volume of Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography in 1993:

          “they never quoted the rest. I went on to say: There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then to look after our neighbour. My meaning, clear at the time but subsequently distorted beyond recognition, was that society was not an abstraction, separate from the men and women who composed it, but a living structure of individuals, families, neighbours and voluntary associations.“

          In other words, she was saying precisely the opposite of the meaning you attribute to her. The suggestion that she would have been happy to see the old and vulnerable killed off by coronavirus is grotesque, repulsive and utterly false.

          1. Thank you Dave for putting that in context. I was no fan of Ms Thatcher, but that quote I always found utterly simplistic, not really Thatcher-like.

          2. Thanks Dave. I agree as well. I also think Thatcher would have coped pretty well with a pandemic such as Covid-19. She had a scientific education, and was quicker on the uptake than most politicians on issues of science (eg global warming). And she was willing to listen to experts, if she was confident that they really knew their subjects, and to formulate her policies accordingly.

            Theresa May, on the other hand, seldom listened to anyone, apart maybe from hubbie Philip. She lost all credibility for me when she asserted that her faith in God made her trust her gut instinct: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/11/27/theresa-may-says-christian-faith-helps-make-difficult-decisions/&ved=2ahUKEwijs5Sj5bvpAhWxVRUIHdLRApoQFjAcegQIBhAB&usg=AOvVaw2brfFbV67qwKfuGABAMeHA I still think this is one of the most terrifying things I have ever heard a British Prime Minister say.

  7. I read all of these comments and agree with many of them but I believe the attitudes of men and women about the same are developed long before voting age. Just to set a time frame. Most people are primarily raised by their mother and consciously or subconsciously taken the attitudes of mother.
    I am not omitting any prejudices here.

    1. Are you then a nurture over nature person? I think I am not… obviously I am not saying there is no effect from the mother – in early years any way…

  8. I think culture has a stronger effect than who leads the country. For example, Hong Kong did well against SARS 2, and its ruler is a woman, but I think you would be hard pressed to find a Hongkonger who thinks she handled the crisis (or frankly, anything) well.

    Another thing is the fact that Asian countries, regardless of whether they were led by women, seemed to be doing very well against the virus, and I think the reason for that is we wear masks whenever there is even a hint of a pandemic going around. Hongkongers have been wearing masks since February, for instance.


    1. Agreed – but I would have said history & Geography. What about China? They handled it & crushed it in a massive country in a city of 11 million.

      For now. All this is provisional – we just do not know what the longer term outcomes will be. We have to either get vaccines & hope they are broadly effective, or live & die with it.

      It comes down to how much we think life is worth living if there is no bloody joy or risk involved. 🤔

  9. … the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on minorities (true), the fact that this reflects structural racism (dubious) …

    I agree it’s dubious that the disproportionate effect this particular pandemic is having on minorities is due to racism. But minorities generally have less access to healthcare (and, resultantly, worse outcomes as to many diseases), a circumstance that, I submit, is itself the residuum of structural racism.

    1. Air pollution will be a factor – poor people & minorities live generally in poorest conditions near roads & sources of pollution etc. Pollution & particulates do microscopic damage to lungs etc & that surely must make one more vulnerable to lung diseases.

  10. The most relevant case to me is Germany, a large, densely populated industrial country in the heart of a continent with a federated rather than unitary government, making it most similar to other large countries for comparison. Here, I believe, it is the fact that its female leader is a scientist (Merkel has a doctorate in quantum chemistry) that has been important. Merkel was able to understand and communicate a coronavirus strategy based on principles of science rather than principles of woo as promulgated by our dear moron-in-chief.

    1. The German Chancellor really does have a very good brain, and (unlike some people I could name) doesn’t need to rely on a relative of second-degree consanguinity’s having been a professor at MIT to prove it.

    2. Merkel followed and still follows the advice of the Robert Koch Institute, which is a supreme (but independent) federal authority. It is also important to note that in January there was a first outbreak in Bavaria, in a company, by a female employee (Patient Zero) who had travelled from China, who was unrecognised to be ill with Covid 19 and had infected several employees.The responsible regional health authority succeeded in locating all contact persons and enforcing appropriate quarantine measures. This was certainly also an instructive test case for the country.

  11. Here may be a relevant answer to the question who is doing best. New York state is now doing best in this country and maybe better than anywhere, considering where they were. Lots of women and men are involved. 40,000 tests a day and 700 locations in the state. No one is even close.

  12. As PCC(e) implies, if one factors out island location (Taiwan, Iceland, NZ) and Nordic cultural values (Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Finland), the argument for female leadership reduces to a single case, that of Germany. There, the sample size is ridiculously small
    (one case!) and moreover Angela Merkel’s scientific background, as some posters mention, is probably more relevant than her karyotype. In short, the NYT argument is simply an amateurish version of p-hacking—i.e., dramatizing just one of a variety of plausible correlations.

  13. I don’t think it matters whether the political leader is male or female. On the one hand, it is due to geographical circumstances, as others have already written, an island or semi-island location is advantageous, see the remote Scandinavian countries or Hong Kong, Australia or NZ, there the containment is much easier. And the question of which measures are the best response to sars cov 2 will only be judged once the pandemic is over. Because if, after the pandemic, countries with restrictive lockdowns have a comparable number of deaths to those without comparable restrictions (such as Sweden), then the latter will be in a better position overall (in terms of economic and social damage and consequential damage.

  14. Seems like Sweden is still regarded as a Scandinavian country I believe, at least as long as there is some population left
    there, not yet killed by the virus (if I may be permitted a really awful attempt at humour by exaggeration). And their PM and health leaders are men just now, IIRC.

    It really pisses me off to hear writers and reporters (and Mass Murderer donald as well of course) who seem to me utterly arithmetically ignorant, going on about how looking at both sides in this is reasonable in any strong way. I am very aware that there is a tiny probability that Sweden’s response will not be regarded as quite so bad when we look back 2 or 3 years from now.

    But a few days ago, Sweden was approaching 9 times worse than Norway in deaths per million. That means about 18 times bigger total deaths. It would take an awful big change later to make that anything but a huge dreadful lethal mistake by their leadership.

  15. “Note, though, that four of the seven are Scandinavian and two are islands.”

    Technically only Norway and Denmark (along with Sweden) are Scandinavian. “Nordic” is likely the term you’re looking for.

    The reason these countries have done well, along with geography, has probably something to do with social trust. When governments in the Nordic countries tell citizens to stay home and keep their distance, these orders are also taken seriously. People trust that their leaders are acting in the best intrest of the country and not their own party or some other special intrest group. And countries that have high social trust are also more likely to elect female leaders. This isn’t the only thing that matters, but I do think it makes more of difference than some gender-specific leadership qualities, whatever their origin.

  16. I think another possibility is that the ability to accurately assess what you know; integrate multiple points of view; and actively seek new information – vs. trying to push through one fairly linear, rote way of doing things with far less consideration – is not necessarily related to being male or female specifically, but is related to skill in a given area. If I am cooking, or driving, or trying to buy stocks, for example, I can be stubborn about not deviating from the one route, recipe, or ‘orphan and widows’ stock list that I know. My husband is exponentially more flexible in these areas. On the other hand, when he is watching the munchkin for awhile, I will leave him a set list of activities to try, whereas if it were me I would make something up on the fly depending on baby’s mood. Sexist? I know some people would say so, but I mean come on – science can’t say on the one hand that a woman’s brain undergoes a very specific restructuring for baby care during pregnancy, and then that there are no difference between men and women on the topic. That’s clearly contradictory. So yes, I do believe there are statistical (not true for every individual, but statistical) differences in common areas of skill for men vs. women.

    At any rate, when I think of the skills needed to plan for a pandemic, it seems to me that the ability to clearly envision a variety of hypothetical outcomes (and assess the likelihood of each), combined with predicting how people on a large scale will behave / react in such a scenario, would be key. I would think that would rely heavily on verbal analytical and social reasoning, which tend, on average, to be stronger areas for women.

  17. We do not really know why countries with female leaders do better than the ones with male leaders. Stronger, we do not even know if they really do. But the different points if view and ancillary comments are highly interesting.
    What intrigues me though is that Covid is killing men disproportionally. And I have this hunch that has more to do with ‘genetics’ than ‘nurture’.

  18. Should we choose our national leader based on how well they might deal with a relatively rare epidemic? What if the attitude needed for handling an epidemic is undesirable for most other tasks of a leadership position?

    It seems to me that in these sort of leisurely forays into social science, the main question – what should we do differently – remains unanswered, and sometimes unanswerable.

  19. What if- Wealthy and stable countries are more likely to elect women as leaders, because some of what we term “women’s issues” are issues that countries under more stress just don’t prioritize as highly.

    I can think of plenty of exceptions. Golda Meir is certainly one. And of course some of those “women’s issues” are about basic human rights, in my opinion.

    It is sort of a luxury for Finland to elect someone like Sanna Marin, who ran on a platform of social justice and carbon reduction. If the key issue at the time of the election had been something like the imminent invasion of millions of Bolsheviks, someone with a different background might have been a better choice.

    But of course I am assuming that Sanna Marin is more typical of women leaders than Golda Meir. That could be completely wrong.

  20. Women may indeed make better leaders in a pandemic – but this one still has an appallingly long way yet to run – it’s really too soon to make an overall assessment.


  21. A clarification to what seems a bit of confusion with interpreting numbers–not my fault I’d like to think, but maybe it is.

    For some fixed period of time, what should be the estimate of the number of deaths which wouldn’t have happened if the virus had not occurred?

    1/ The reported number of coronavirus deaths; or

    2/ the additional number of deaths over and above what would have been expected if no corona virus, by comparing other years recently.

    I’d say 2/ is far more accurate than 1/.

    If so, let us compare the percentages in that 4 week old NYTimes table (and c’mon, this is entirely factual, nothing to do with whether you think NYTimes is becoming polluted with various sociological evils of the stupid end of the so-called left wing in the US).

    UK 67%, Spain 60%, Netherlands 50%,
    Belgium 50%, Italy 49%, France 44%,
    Sweden 27%, Switzerland 24%, Germany 6%,
    Denmark 5%, Norway 0%

    So Belgium is not good, but it is nowhere near as bad looking as people relying on 1/ would make it.

    The other thing, which my numbers earlier were directed towards, is a bit more complicated. It is directed to showing specifically from the whole table how the numbers you get in 1/ are more or less inaccurate depending on the country, if you, as I do, think 2/ is far closer to the correct number. And many are very inaccurate, almost all countries having their numbers in 1/ far less than what’s likely the facts.

    Also, my writing above: “..which wouldn’t have happened if the virus had not occurred” is getting at the numbers which are really relevant to the effectiveness of the government response, better for some countries than others by a wide margin. They would include some deaths from factors such as ‘no room in the hospital after a heart attack’. So they are not the numbers needed to estimate the lethality of that virus itself, assuming the meaning of that really exists for epidemiologist specialists. Those numbers would be smaller (but still far closer to 2/ than 1/ IMO).

  22. Great article. Believing the evidence that there are differences in personality between men and women (differences in the group average on many personality dimensions), I’m sure that this is a great area for study.

    But, as other commenters have pointed out, it’s a small sample size and one hypothesis that needs testing first is whether female leaders have had bigger mountains to climb to the top job.

    So it’s a challenging project.

    Of course, NYT and the faithful won’t ever be able to study the subject.

    Example, just imagine NYT articles with these title,
    – “Did countries with male leaders do better in curbing the Covid-19 pandemic?”
    – “Are male leaders better economic leaders?”
    I can’t.

  23. Were Priti Patel Prime Minister of the UK, I suspect things would be even worse than they are now under Johnson.

    Japan is doing well, despite the not very draconian measures the government has been taking. I don’t altogether trust the official figures, which I suspect are quite a bit higher than stated, but certainly nowhere the levels in Britain, a country slightly smaller than Japan and with about half the population – and in Japan, the country being so mountainous, the bulk of the population is crowded into a smaller area. But people do not mind wearing masks and are mostly willing to behave sensibly.Here’s something that my be of interest:

    Subject: Japanese Health Manual Created During the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic Offers Timeless Wisdom: Stay Away from Others, Cover Your Mouth & Nose, and More | Open Culture


  24. After discussing the disease with my wife, who knows a bit about it, I wish to make the following observation:

    We cannot compare the effectiveness of the Covid response between countries. Or even US states. Everyone uses different means to quantify the number of positive cases, and the number of those who succumb to the disease.
    Here they have incentivized the diagnosis of ICU patients as Covid sufferers. The legislation recently passed gives hospitals additional funds for Covid ICU patients, and still more if they are intubated.
    My wife is particular about signing death certificates, and has not been pressured to add Covid as a secondary cause. But it is likely happening elsewhere.
    The administration of tests varies wildly as well, especially among asymptomatic people. The tests themselves differ. Our most accurate test has a narrow window in the course of the disease when it needs to be administered.

    So really, this is a discussion that we should hold sometime in the future, when all those differences could be accounted for statistically. Also, it is still an ongoing event. If a country isolates the population and stops the spread of disease, but later this year their economy collapses, and they descend into a road-warrior dystopian anarchy, their efforts might not be judged successful.

    1. “We cannot compare the effectiveness of the Covid response between countries. … Everyone uses different means to quantify … the number of those who succumb to the disease.”

      I don’t disagree with the latter fact, but do maybe disagree, better expressed as give different meanings, to some aspects of what you say:

      It is true, as you say later, that as time unfolds we’ll get better numbers.

      But if interested in estimating

      how much death has happened which wouldn’t have happened in normal times

      (definitely more than the number which is lethality of the disease, but not differing by a lot), then slightly older statistics allowing good estimates of expected deaths plus contemporaneous statistics giving actual deaths, over periods as short as a month, will in fact give good estimates of that “how much..” above.

      The effectiveness as above can then be compared, realizing of course that it also has to do with effectiveness over earlier years, for example, effectiveness in having a half-decent public health system for the country studied.

      But as we know, the Mass Murderer donald has not only been utterly ineffective in leadership now, his regime is also trying desperately to ruin what public health improvements that Obama’s regime made.

      1. It is rather confusing. I just read that Sweden’s lethality in April has been higher than April of recent years. (I think it is the first month you can see an increased lethality.) But apparently we only need to go back 20-30 years to see much higher numbers! (I really want to see a graph sometime soon.)

        And even if we compare lethality, the only way to riddle it is with detailed epidemic models of each area – since infection initiation and routes differ – and then try to see what the measures did. If we can, many including me are dubious, seems every pandemic differs too much on the specifics.

        In any case I guess we are more sensitive against suffering and death now, for good and for worse.

        1. “..we only need to go back 20-30 years to see much higher numbers..”

          I’m pretty sure the experts stick to just the previous five years. But it’s all quite interesting.
          And even with five, IIRC, apparently ‘ordinary’ flu was worse than usual in 2018 and 2019, at least in Canada/US, so adjustments may be made slightly for that. I’m not sure whether AIDS made a sufficient difference to stats to be taken into account arithmetically on these matters.

        2. To add to the complication, people are going to start to die from conditions that would have been successfully treated, had we still been engaging in preventative medicine.

  25. It is too early to know the ongoing local epidemics, much less compare outcomes – if it even can be done with such complex processes!

    So this was one article I didn’t read through. I note that it discuss women leaders, but that is mostly a marker for democracies at large – if we should mention potential factors for good outcomes, the Scandinavian nations tend to be sparsely populated, single person households, democratic and listen to science.

    Speaking of which, the Scandinavian nations listened there all made political lock down decisions against the advice from their own health agencies (Sweden did not, much – some restrictions apply). During the ongoing easing of lock downs – again going against some recommendations [ https://www.expressen.se/nyheter/coronaviruset/norge-ger-sverige-ratt-om-skolstangningarna/ ] – expert voices have been heard regretting some of those decisions. For instance, the closing of young children schools had little effect and if anything it may have been a negative one [ibid].

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