Concern about pandemic differs across gender and race lines

Some interesting public opinion research (check the article for the charts):

A common thread that connects all Canadians these days is worry. We worry about our senior relatives, children home from school struggling with online lessons, sky-rocketing unemployment, the safety of essential workers and working from home instead of well-equipped offices.

The current pandemic has most Canadians worried as COVID-19 touches every corner of the society and people valiantly try to do their part to slow the spread of the disease. In a recent survey by the Consortium on Electoral Democracy (C-Dem), we found that most Canadians are at least a little worried about how COVID-19 will affect their household.  As Figure 1 indicates, fears that someone in their household could contract the disease posed the biggest worry, with the economic impact also raising concerns. Fewer Canadians  worried about access to basic goods.

Yet, while everyone might be worried, we cannot ignore an important truth: the disease itself, and its vast societal consequences, are not affecting all Canadians equally. The current coronavirus crisis has highlighted the considerable care-taking roles of women in the home and in the labour force – in health care, long-term care, personal support work and essential service sectors. Women are on the front-lines helping to keep Canadians healthy and supplied with necessities.

At the same time, women have also been the hardest hit by pandemic-related job losses, as Statistics Canada’s March jobs report first revealed. Cutting across this gender difference, racialized and immigrant workers are particularly affected given their employment in industries with high COVID-19 infection rates, such as meat-packing plants and long-term care homes. Immigrant women, especially Filipino women, are concentrated in nursing and caregiving professions. Visible minorities make up nearly a majority of peopleworking as personal support workers in Ontario, of whom 96 percent are women.

Beyond the economics, COVID-19 also has differential infection rates in Canada. Early evidence from other countries provided little evidence of sex-differentiated COVID-19 infection rates, but reported higher fatality rates for men.

Canadian data seem to tell a different story. As of mid-May, women account for 55 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases and 53 per cent of deaths in Canada, though the trend varies across the country. Some provinces, including the two largest (Quebec and Ontario), report women-skewed infection rates, but some others (for example Alberta and BC) report essentially no difference.

Part of the story could be who is able to get tested – as more women work in health and long-term care settings, they have priority. And we do not yet have good data on racialized gaps in infection rates because provincial and federal authorities in Canada have not collected race-disaggregated data throughout the pandemic.  However, several provincial and municipal health authorities have started or are developing processes for this (for example, Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, and the City of Toronto’s public health unit).

Preliminary evidence suggests that infection rates are higher in Canada among black and immigrant communities and a recent study suggests that neighborhoods with higher ethnic density had less testing but higher infection rates.

Because we know that people are being affected differently in material ways by the pandemic, does this extend to the mental burden of general worries as well? Are certain subgroups of society more concerned about the illness and the economic upheaval than others?

In our survey, women generally expressed more worry than men about contracting the disease and the economic impact on their families and follow-up analyses determined that this could not be attributed to parental status. Mothers were not distinguishable from fathers, or from women without children, once controls were added to our models. That said, gender-role norms that women are more maternal or caring than men could still drive the gender gap in worry, whether respondents have children or not.

In Figure 2, we explore these gender gaps in more detail by exploring how concerns varied by immigration and visible minority status. It shows the predicted levels of worry after controlling for a host of demographic factors. In other words, after controlling for differences among these groups in socio-economic status, age, etc., do we still see significant differences?

The most dramatic gender gap appears, as Figure 2 shows, with immigrant women, who show the highest levels of concern Still, visible minority immigrants that are men are almost equally as concerned across our measures of worry. The heightened level of worry is consistent with the observation that the front line of the pandemic response is gendered and racialized.

Academic studies argue that the workforce in long-term care homes is not well researched or understood. What is clear is that care aides perform the majority of direct care to clients in these facilities, and that this occupational group is predominantly female and in some cases half of them are immigrant workers.

Current figures place long-term care homes at the centre of the pandemic, with reports that they are connected to 79 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada. In this context, it is not surprising that immigrant women are significantly more worried and concerned about their chances or their family’s likelihood of contracting the virus.

The messaging of the COVID-19 crisis so far has been important and effective. Government leaders and public health authorities have emphasized the importance of physical distancing, while maintaining solidarity and connection. The mantra has been that we are “in this together.”

Our data suggest an important corollary. Attention needs to be paid – now and after the pandemic has ended – to how worries and risks differ across social groups. We know that mental health risks are just as real as physical health risk during the pandemic, so paying attention to who is bearing the burden of worry is extremely important. Looking at the data this way not only documents differences and inequalities, but encourages empathy – and perhaps crucial policy responsiveness and accountability as society recovers.

Source: Concern about pandemic differs across gender and race lines

What psychology reveals about the Brexit vote

One of the more interesting analysis of some of the forces at play (disclosure: Harell, the researcher, is on the same External Advisory Committee for the Canadian Index on Immigrant Integration as I am):

There are a lot of ways to try to make sense of the Brexit referendum—even as the shock waves continue to rumble across the globe—on policy, economic and messaging grounds. But there’s also a more personal, psychology-driven way to try to sort out why people vote as they do.

A new study sheds light on how attitudes toward immigration—one of the key aspects of the debate over the U.K. leaving the EU—fit in with someone’s general sense of control over life. The researchers found that anti-immigrant views were most common in those whose disposition leads them to feel like life is something that just happens to them, while people who feel like they can control things are more likely to be amenable to newcomers.

The paper, to be published in an upcoming issue of Political Psychology, surveyed 4,200 people in Canada, the U.S. and U.K., examining a personal trait known as “locus of control”—basically, the degree to which you feel like you, your country and other people are in control of circumstances, rather than being buffeted by random winds.

To measure locus of control in a personal context, researchers asked people to respond to the statements, “Many times I feel that I have little influence over the things that happen to me” and “When I make plans, I am almost certain that I can make them work.” It was measured in a societal context by asking, “How much control do you think that [your country] has over the immigrants who are able to enter the country?” And to measure how people perceived locus of control in immigrants, respondents chose from four explanations for why newcomers may experience financial hardship: because they are unlucky, because of laziness and lack of willpower, because of injustice in our society or because it’s an inevitable part of modern progress.

Attitudes toward immigrants, in turn, were measured by people’s responses to four questions—two focused on economic concerns and two on cultural—including, “Immigrants take jobs away from other [Canadians]” and “[Canada’s] cultural life is enriched by immigrants to this country.”

The researchers found that people who feel like they run the show have more positive views of immigrants than those who have a weak sense of personal locus of control. But, conversely, people who assign locus of control to immigrants—that is, they believe immigrants are responsible for their lot in life—are more likely to hold anti-immigrant views. Allison Harell, associate professor of political science at Université du Québec à Montréal and lead author on the paper, believes that disconnect makes perfect sense. “When you feel like you can control things, it’s less threatening. Yes, things are changing, but I can help shape and react to what’s going on in the environment, so that makes it less scary,” she says. “Whereas when you’re attributing problems to the other person, if they’re responsible for it, then you can be harsher on them because it’s their fault.”

Harell and her co-authors conducted this research in 2012 and it will be published in the next few months, but she offers up a dark chuckle about how timely and relevant it is now. For months, the pro-Brexit campaign has been explicitly speaking to this anxiety with the refrain to “take back control” from the EU. Earlier this week, U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage refused to apologize for a controversial poster depicting a long line of dark-skinned migrants emblazoned with the text “Breaking Point.”

Across the pond, Donald Trump has discovered the same psychological pressure point. The drumbeats he’s been pounding—that ordinary Americans are getting a raw deal, their leaders are clueless or negligent and their country is being overrun by freeloading or outright violent outsiders—all boil down to notions of control, too. “People may have felt that way already, but it may have solidified some of that fear of this external threat, or this lack of control over what’s going on,” Harell says. “That’s clearly going to have an impact on how people feel about immigration and immigrants more generally.”

She sees significant differences between the three countries, too. Anti-immigrant sentiment was considerably higher in the U.K. (.64 on a scale from 0 to 1, where .50 would be an essentially neutral position) than in the U.S. or Canada (.50 and .49, respectively). Brits—and, to a lesser extent, Americans—are also much less likely to feel like their country is in control of immigration than Canadians. The measure for societal locus of control in the U.K. is just .27 (on a scale from 0—meaning complete lack of control—to 1—total control), while in the U.S. it is .37 and in Canada, .52. Harell believes this relative calm reflects the fact that Canada only shares a border with the U.S., and the points-based immigration system alleviates a lot of anxiety and resentment around jobs and the economy.

For the past few decades, a lot of political science research on public opinion has been very neck-up, focusing on the ways in which we process information and how that shapes our attitudes and preferences. But, increasingly, research in this area is looking more at the emotional, psychological and personality-driven reasons why we like what we like, reject what we don’t, and vote as we do.

“The fact that we react viscerally to something is important,” Harell says. “That helps explain immediate reactions and shifts in public opinions and polls where you see a spike right after an event. That might not be a well thought-out policy position change on the part of citizens; it might just be a real reaction to what’s going on.”

Source: What psychology reveals about the Brexit vote –