August 19, 2020 -- States with a woman at the helm had lower death rates related to COVID-19 from January to May, according to a new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The governor’s press briefings about the coronavirus also had greater optimism about a positive future, the authors wrote.
“We found a growing stream of research suggesting that women tend to be preferred as leaders during times of uncertainty. This helped us develop our research question,” Kayla Sargent, a management professor at Edgewood College in Wisconsin, told PsyPost.
The researchers analyzed public data on U.S. governors and COVID-19 deaths. The found that the nine states with women governors tended to have earlier stay-at-home orders and lower COVID-19 death rates. The researchers took into account factors such as the governor’s age, state population, face mask mandates, travel bans and ventilator numbers.
Even among states with early stay-at-home orders, those with a female governor still had fewer deaths. This could suggest that “residents perhaps responded differently depending on whether a man or woman governor issued this order,” they wrote.
The research team also analyzed 250 governor press briefings and found that women used more empathetic words, connected with viewers’ feelings and showed concern for personal welfare. They also remained more confident and optimistic about a “brighter future,” Sargent said.
The study was based on COVID-19 deaths recorded between January and May, so the results could change during the pandemic. Male governors who exhibit empathy, optimism and confidence may also have an effect on residents, they wrote, which underscores the need for a variety of different leadership voices and styles.
“We cannot control state election results nor sex of the governor,” they wrote. However, “our findings underscore that states with a women governor are not just ‘tokenism’ or a ‘numbers game.’”