FDU Poll: Macho, Macho Man: Masculinity is a major risk factor for COVID-19

Macho, Macho Man: Masculinity is a major risk factor for COVID-19

Masculine men more resistant to masks, vaccine; more than 2x as likely to have been diagnosed with COVID-19

Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, N.J., Feb. 16, 2021 – Men are more skeptical than women about COVID-19 vaccines and wearing facemasks – but the real divide is between men who are trying to project masculinity and the men who aren’t. Men who assert a traditionally masculine gender identity are less likely to say that they’ll get the COVID-19 vaccine, more likely to say that it has side effects, more resistant to wearing face masks for protection, and more likely to say they have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Men’s attempts to demonstrate what they believe to be masculine behavior may be holding back the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University who studies masculinity, and the Director of the FDU Poll.  “Many men think that being tough is part of being masculine. That means not wearing a mask, or getting a vaccine. It means they figure they’ll be tough enough to survive COVID anyway.”

Resistance to measures designed to limit the spread of the virus leaves these men at greater risk for contracting it. Men who assert a “completely masculine” gender are more likely to report having been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus recently: 2.2 percent of them say that they’ve been diagnosed, compared with 0.8 percent of other men. About 1.4 percent of women, across gender categories, say that they’ve recently been diagnosed with the virus.

Although the difference is rather small, the large sample size of the survey and the closeness of the figures to zero means that the difference is well within the normal range of statistical significance given a sample of over 6,000 respondents. Some individuals reported being unsure if they had been diagnosed or not, and were excluded from the analysis. If those individuals are included, 2.2 percent of “completely masculine” men say that they’ve been diagnosed, compared with 0.7 percent of other men. This figure also does not include individuals who may have been infected but didn’t see a medical professional. Put another way, men who are trying to assert their masculinity are just shy of three times as likely to report having been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The results are not a problem of men bragging or over-reporting, says Cassino. “If anything, we’d guess that men concerned with their masculinity are less likely to see a doctor, so this is a real difference, rather than just a difference in reporting,” said Cassino. “We can’t exclude the possibility that men are over-reporting having been diagnosed, but the results line up with all of the reported high-risk behaviors in this group. Trying to be macho has real consequences for some men.”

Respondents in the study were asked to place their gender identity on a six-point scale from “completely masculine” to “completely feminine.” About two-thirds of U.S. men (68 percent) place themselves as “completely masculine,” compared with 57 percent of women who say that they’re “completely feminine.” Only about four percent of men say that they’re “feminine,” while eight percent of women call themselves “masculine.” Past research has shown this to be strongly related to age and religious views among men.

Those men who assert that they’re “completely masculine” are more likely than other men to express skepticism about Coronavirus vaccines and are less likely to say that they’ll take the vaccine. Thus, 21 percent of men who assert a “completely masculine” gender identity say that they’re “very unlikely” to get a coronavirus vaccination when it becomes available to them, compared with 17 percent of other men.

“The idea here is that if you’re strong enough, you don’t need to take vaccines,” said Cassino. “For these men, saying that you don’t want to take preventative measures is a way of showing strength.”

Justifying reluctance to get the vaccine means that “masculine” men are more likely to say that vaccines are actually a bad thing. On average, men who insist on a “completely masculine” gender identity say that there’s a 22 percent chance that the vaccine will cause serious side effects, compared with 19 percent of other men. It’s no surprise, then, that 34 percent of them agree with a statement that COVID-19 vaccines have many harmful known side effects, compared to 27 percent of other men.

Reticence to embrace measures intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 extends past vaccine skepticism. Ten percent of “completely masculine” men agree that wearing a face mask is dangerous to the health of the wearer, compared to just six percent of other men. Seventeen percent of those men agree that masks are too uncomfortable to wear, compared with 13 percent of other men. They’re also resistant to the idea that they could be forced to wear a mask: 24 percent of them agree with the statement, “We live in a free country, and no one can force me to wear a mask,” compared with 17 percent of other men, and 18 percent of the overall population.

“Refusing to wear a mask is a public way for men to show how tough they are,” said Cassino. “Unlike a vaccine, the absent mask is a visible symbol of your beliefs, a way to signal to everyone around you that you don’t need to take preventative measures.”

The same factors that lead men to avoid masks in an attempt to assert their masculinity also leads them to ignore other behaviors recommended by public health authorities. Forty-three percent of “completely masculine” men say that they’ve had visitors over at their residence recently, compared with 36 percent of other men. Sixteen percent say that they’ve attended a gathering of 10 or more people, compared with 10 percent of other men, and 11 percent of the overall population.

The FDU Poll questions were included in the “Understanding America Study,” a nationally representative panel survey of U.S. residents carried out by the University of Southern California. Results described here are based on a sample size of 6,179, surveyed between Jan. 6 and Feb. 1, 2021.

The analysis described here relies on data from surveys administered by the Understanding America Study, which is maintained by the Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) at the University of Southern California. The content of this paper is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of USC or UAS. The collection of the UAS COVID-19 tracking data is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and by grant U01AG054580 from the National Institute on Aging, and many others.

Methodology

The online survey was conducted between Jan. 6, 2021, and Feb. 1, 2021, though most respondents completed it before Jan.15, and 95 percent of respondents completed it before Jan. 23, 2021. The survey contained 6,179 adults, 18 or older, and was conducted in all 50 states. A total of 8,020 members of the panel were eligible to be included in the weighted sample, leading to a participation rate of 77 percent in the wave discussed here. The sample includes 100 respondents who began but did not complete the survey. Panel members are randomized to respond on a pre-assigned date of the week and given additional compensation for having done so.

A full discussion of the sampling and weighting techniques used in the Understanding America Survey can be found at their website, https://uasdata.usc.edu/index.php.

Measuring Gender Identity

The items used for measuring gender identity have been developed by political scientists and sociologists over the last several years as an alternative to lengthy gender identity question sets used in the past, and wording for these items has not yet been standardized. As such, the question wording used in this survey is slightly different than that used in other research but seems to have given rather similar results.

In cognitive testing, respondents show little difficulty understanding or answering this question, and refusal rates for it are comparable to those of other demographic items, like income or age. While the gender identity scale used here is uni-dimensional, running from “Masculine” to “Feminine,” past work has shown that it correlates almost perfectly with theoretically preferable scales measuring gender as a bi-dimensional construct.

Question-Wording

What is your gender?

Male

Female

(Other options, including for transgender status, given in separate items)

 

Regardless of their biological sex, some people see themselves as more feminine and others see themselves as more masculine. How masculine or feminine do you see yourself?

Completely Masculine

Mostly Masculine

Slightly Masculine

Slightly Feminine

Mostly Feminine

Completely Feminine

 

Whether or not you have had a coronavirus test, has a doctor or other healthcare professional diagnosed you as having or probably having the coronavirus since [date of previous survey, generally about one month]?

Yes

No

Unsure

 

We would like to learn your general opinion about wearing a mask or face covering. Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements:

Wearing a Mask is Dangerous to my Health

We live in a free country and no one can force me to wear a mask

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Neither Agree Nor Disagree

Agree

Strongly Agree

 

In the last seven days, have you done the following:

Had visitors such as friends, neighbors or relatives at your residence

Attended a gathering with more than 10 people, such as a reunion, wedding, funeral, birthday party, concert or religious service

Yes

No

Unsure

 

[Asked if not vaccinated] How likely are you to get vaccinated for coronavirus once a vaccine is available to the public?

Very Unlikely

Somewhat Unlikely

Somewhat Likely

Very Likely

Unsure

 

On a scale of 0 to 100, what is the percent chance that a coronavirus vaccine will cause serious side effects or long-term health problems for someone who has been vaccinated? If you are unsure, please give your best guess.

 

COVID-19 Vaccines Have Many Known Harmful Side Effects

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Agree

Strongly Agree

 

Weighted and Unweighted Sample Characteristics

National Unweighted
National Weighted
Male
41
48
Age 18-34
16
23
Age 35-54
38
39
Age 55-64
21
17
Age 65+
25
21
Education HS or Less
21
38
Education Some College
37
27
Education College Degree
43
35
HH Income Under $25K
19
22
HH Income $25K-$50K
21
23
HH Income $50K-$75K
19
19
HH Income Above $75K
40
36
Non-Hispanic White
67
63
Non-Hispanic Black
8
12
Non-Hispanic Asian
5
5
Non-Hispanic Other
5
3
Hispanic/Latino/a
15
17

 

Tables

Sex
Sex/Gender
Attended a Gathering With more than 10 people
Overall
Men
Women
Men,  Completely Masculine
Men, Other
Women, Completely Feminine
Women, Other
Yes
13
14
12
16
10
14
8
No
86
85
88
84
88
85
91
Unsure
1
1
1
0
2
1
1

 

Sex
Sex/Gender
Diagnosed with COVID-19
Overall
Men
Women
Men,  Completely Masculine
Men, Other
Women, Completely Feminine
Women, Other
Yes
1.6
1.8
1.4
2.2
0.8
1.4
1.4
No
98.4
98.2
98.6
97.8
99.2
98.6
98.4

 

Sex
Sex/Gender
Percent Diagnosed with COVID-19
Overall
Men
Women
Men,  Completely Masculine
Men, Other
Women, Completely Feminine
Women, Other
95% Confidence Interval, bottom
1.1
1.3
1.0
1.6
0.2
0.9
0.7
95% Confidence Interval, top
2.1
2.3
1.8
2.9
1.3
2.0
2.0

 

Sex
Non-College Educated
College Educated
Self Reported Gender Identity
Overall
Men
Women
Men
Women
Men
Women
Completely Masculine
33
68
0
72
1
61
0
Mostly Masculine
12
24
1
19
1
33
1
Slightly Masculine
5
4
6
5
6
3
5
Slightly Feminine
4
2
7
2
6
1
8
Mostly Feminine
15
1
28
2
25
0
35
Completely Feminine
30
1
57
1
60
1
50

 

White
Non-White
Self Reported Gender Identity
Overall
Men
Women
Men
Women
Completely Masculine
33
69
0
61
2
Mostly Masculine
12
24
1
26
2
Slightly Masculine
5
4
6
8
8
Slightly Feminine
4
2
6
2
8
Mostly Feminine
15
1
30
3
21
Completely Feminine
30
1
56
2
59

 

Sex
Sex/Gender
How Likely to Get Vaccinated Once Available?
Overall
Men
Women
Men,  Completely Masculine
Men, Other
Women, Completely Feminine
Women, Other
Very Unlikely
22
20
25
21
17
26
23
Somewhat Unlikely
9
8
10
8
10
9
11
Somewhat Likely
18
18
18
17
18
17
19
Very Likely
39
45
33
45
46
34
32
Unsure
11
9
14
9
9
14
14

 

Sex
Sex/Gender
 % Chance Coronavirus Vaccine Cause Serious Side Effects
Overall
Men
Women
Men,  Completely Masculine
Men, Other
Women, Completely Feminine
Women, Other
Group Mean
26%
21%
30%
22%
19%
30%
29%

 

Sex
Sex/Gender
COVID-19 Vaccines Have Many Known Harmful Effects
Overall
Men
Women
Men,  Completely Masculine
Men, Other
Women, Completely Feminine
Women, Other
Strongly Disagree
16
20
13
18
23
13
12
Disagree
46
48
43
48
50
43
44
Agree
30
26
35
28
21
34
35
Strongly Agree
8
6
9
6
6
9
8

 

Sex
Sex/Gender
Wearing a Mask is Dangerous to my health
Overall
Men
Women
Men,  Completely Masculine
Men, Other
Women, Completely Feminine
Women, Other
Strongly Disagree
47
47
48
45
50
51
46
Disagree
26
28
24
30
26
24
23
Neither Agree nor Disagree
17
16
18
15
17
16
20
Agree
7
6
7
7
4
7
8
Strongly Agree
3
3
3
4
2
3
3

 

Sex
Sex/Gender
We Live in a Free Country; No One Can Force Mask
Overall
Men
Women
Men,  Completely Masculine
Men, Other
Women, Completely Feminine
Women, Other
Strongly Disagree
36
34
39
33
36
40
38
Disagree
20
20
20
20
21
21
19
Neither Agree nor Disagree
25
25
25
24
26
23
26
Agree
12
13
12
14
12
11
12
Strongly Agree
6
8
4
10
5
4
5

 

Age, Men
Age, Women
Self Reported Gender Identity
Overall
18-29
30-44
45-60
60+
18-29
30-44
45-60
60+
Completely Masculine
33
40
57
70
82
2
1
1
0
Mostly Masculine
12
35
33
23
15
2
2
1
1
Slightly Masculine
5
10
5
4
3
7
9
6
2
Slightly Feminine
4
4
2
2
0
14
9
4
2
Mostly Feminine
15
8
1
1
0
45
33
22
19
Completely Feminine
30
3
2
1
0
31
47
66
77

 

 

 

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