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Female-led countries have handled the coronavirus crisis better, a new study shows.
According to research, strategies such as early lockdowns have meant that countries led by women have had "systematically and significantly better" outcomes in their handling of the pandemic.
On average, countries with female leaders have suffered half as many deaths compared with those run by men.
The staggering difference in figures "may be explained by the proactive and coordinated policy responses" employed by women leaders, say analysts.
The study, conducted by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum, drew on analysis of 194 countries in total.
Until now, the relative success of strategies undertaken by leaders such as New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern, Germany's Angela Merkel and Denmark's Mette Frederiksen has generated headlines and even memes, but little academic study.
But now, research appears to show that female leaders acted "more quickly and decisively", and therefore "provided countries with an advantage" during the crisis.
Prof Supriya Garikipati, co-author of the study alongside Professor Uma Kambhampati, said: "Our results clearly indicate that women leaders reacted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities.
"In almost all cases, they locked down earlier than male leaders in similar circumstances.
"While this may have longer-term economic implications, it has certainly helped these countries to save lives, as evidenced by the significantly lower number of deaths in these countries."
Researchers considered factors such as GDP, total population, population density and number of elderly residents.
They also looked at health spending, international travel policy and the level of gender equality.
As just 19 of the 194 countries are run by women, analysts had to create "nearest neighbour" countries with similar population sizes to balance out the small sample size and draw comparisons.
This meant pairing female-led Germany, New Zealand and Bangladesh with male-led Britain, Ireland and Pakistan, for example.
"Nearest neighbour analysis clearly confirms that when women-led countries are compared to countries similar to them along a range of characteristics, they have performed better, experiencing fewer cases as well as fewer deaths," said Prof Garikipati.
She went on to say that while women leaders were "risk averse with regard to lives" they were willing to "take significant risks with their economies by locking down early".
Researchers concluded that "proactive policy responses" had given female-led countries an advantage.
"Our findings show that Covid outcomes are systematically and significantly better in countries led by women and, to some extent, this may be explained by the proactive policy responses they adopted," said Prof Garikipati.
"Even accounting for institutional context and other controls, being female-led has provided countries with an advantage in the current crisis."
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