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Leading the fight against the pandemic: Does gender really matter?

Since the start of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the relationship between national women leaders and their effectiveness in handling the COVID-19 crisis has received much media attention. This paper scrutinizes this association by considering income, demography, health infrastructure, gender norms, and other national characteristics and asks if women’s leadership is associated with fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths in the first few months of the pandemic. The paper also examines differences in the policy responses of leaders by gender. Using a constructed dataset for 194 countries, it uses a variety of economic and sociodemographic variables to match nearest neighbors. The findings show that COVID-19 outcomes, especially deaths, are better in countries led by women and may be explained by the timing of lockdowns. The study uses insights from behavioral studies and leadership literature to speculate on the sources of these gender differences as well as on their implications.


  • COVID-19 offers a unique spotlight on the effectiveness of national leadership in crises.

  • Little is known about how women versus men leaders manage national crises.

  • Nearest-neighbor matching reveals women-led countries performed better in COVID-19 outcomes.

  • Women leaders locked down their countries more quickly than their men-led neighbors.

  • Women leaders also communicated in ways that were markedly different from men leaders.

Garikipati, S., & Kambhampati, U. (2021). Leading the Fight against the Pandemic: Does Gender really matter?. Feminist Economics, 1-18.

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