Health & Fitness

Who’s Wearing a Face Mask? Women, Democrats and City Dwellers

As states continue to lift restrictions that were put in place to curb the coronavirus outbreak and as Americans start going out in public again, recent surveys suggest that gender, political affiliation and education level are factors that have a bearing on who is wearing a mask, and who isn’t.

Public health officials have recommended wearing masks in public when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as in grocery stores and pharmacies, and at least a dozen states have required them in those circumstances. And most businesses that are reopening are doing so with restrictions: fewer customers, social distancing and face masks.

According to a Gallup poll that was conducted in mid-April, only a third of Americans said they always wore a mask or cloth face covering outside the home. Another third said they sometimes wore a mask in public, and a third reported that they never did.

Here is what some of the research shows about who is covering up.

About 67 percent of women said they had worn a mask outside their home, compared with 56 percent of men, according to the Gallup poll, which was based on a random sample of 2,451 adults in the United States and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

“Do men and women think differently about wearing masks?” said Catherine Sanderson, a psychology professor at Amherst College. “Absolutely, in precisely the same way men and women think differently in terms of all types of health-related behavior. Men speed more. Men engage in higher rates of binge drinking. Men are less likely to wear seatbelts.”

A preprint study — posted online in May, but not published in a scientific journal and not yet peer-reviewed — found that American men were less likely to wear face masks and that fewer men than women believed that they would be seriously affected by the coronavirus. The study, conducted by researchers at Middlesex University in London and the Mathematical Science Research Institute in Berkeley, Calif., reported that men also found masks to be shameful.

Apryl Alexander, a clinical assistant professor at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver, said such attitudes reflected widespread “gendering” in the way Americans are encouraged to communicate and behave.

“We condition males in our society to be tough with messages that wearing a mask shows worry and concern about one’s health,” Dr. Alexander said. “Do men want to show that worry, concern and vulnerability?”

Dr. Alexander said public health officials should work on shifting that narrative: Masks don’t indicate fear, they signal compassion for others.

Of those polled by Gallup, 75 percent of Democrats said they had worn a mask in public, while 58 percent of independents and less than half of Republicans said the same.

Democrats were far more likely to live in counties where the virus has sickened and killed more people, while Republicans were more likely to live in counties that have been relatively unscathed by the illness, though they were paying an economic price. This contributes to the conflicting partisan response to the pandemic, including how to reopen businesses and whether to take extra precautions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Other research suggests the gap between Democrats and Republicans on mask use may be narrower. According to a Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape survey, 92 percent of Democrats said they had worn a mask compared with 79 percent of Republicans. Data was collected between March 19 and May 20.

African-Americans and Latinos, whose rates of infection and death from the virus exceed their representation in the population, are far more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans.

Gallup found that city and suburban residents were more likely to wear masks than those in more rural areas.

  • Updated June 2, 2020

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Nearly a third of Americans live in one of the 100 most densely populated counties in the United States. The virus has taken its greatest toll in these areas, with an infection rate three times as high as the rest of the nation and a death rate four times as high.

People who live in a county that has recorded at least one coronavirus-related death are more likely to wear masks than people who live in counties that have recorded no deaths from the virus, according to the Gallup poll.

The survey also found that those in the western and northeastern regions of the country were more likely to wear masks than those in the Midwest and South. More than 70 percent of the survey participants in the West and Northeast said they had worn a mask in the week before responding to the poll. But less than half of the Midwesterners surveyed said they had worn a mask.

According to the Gallup poll, 66 percent of the college graduates surveyed said they had worn a mask in public. About 60 percent of those without a college degree said they had worn one.

American adults who said they trusted scientists and journalists “a lot” were also more likely to claim to have worn a mask in public, according to the poll.


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