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Young men break social-distancing rules way more than young women

People playing football at Battersea Park, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 6, 2020.
REUTERS/Hannah McKay
Social distancing? Meh.
  • Jenny Anderson
By Jenny Anderson

Senior reporter, Editor of How to be Human


Lockdown has been hard for many, including teens who had flown the nest and suddenly had to fly back home.

A new survey by a team from the University of Sheffield and Ulster University in the UK suggests young men are handling it by flouting the rules at twice the rate of young women.

Researchers questioned just under 2,000 13- to 24-year-olds, finding half of the men aged 19-24 had met friends or family members they did not live with during lockdown, compared to 25% of women.

Younger teens were more compliant than older ones. The most rule-breaking group by far was men aged 19 to 21: Almost 30% had been asked by police to leave an area, go home, or disperse (22% had been arrested or fined), compared to 11% for similarly aged women. For those aged 22 to 24, it was a fifth of men compared to 10% of women.

Liat Levita from the University of Sheffield, one of the lead authors, told the BBC that the results were not surprising: “We know that males in general take more risks and evolutionary psychologists have always explained that in terms of males trying to show off…They will take more risks and their decision-making processes are shaped by that so their behavior actually makes sense to them.”

Men aged 19-24 were likely to have a positive perception of people their age breaking the rules, the research showed. Levita told the Guardian that the figures mean the government needs to explain itself better. “Explaining the reasons behind ongoing physical distancing measures will be crucial to persuading young men to follow the rules as the government begins to ease the lockdown.”

The psychologists also found that up to half of young people now feel significantly more anxious than before the lockdown, with the youngest teens showing the highest rates of anxiety. Those who were more anxious were more likely to comply with physical distancing measures, whereas those with higher levels of depression were more likely to break the rules.

The research was not all negative. Across all age groups, 30% to 40% enjoyed spending time with their parents or caregivers.

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