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 one-third of Americans said they always wore a mask or cloth face covering outside the home. Another one-third said they sometimes wore a mask in public, and one-third reported that they never did.
Here is what some of the research shows about who is covering up.
Women are more likely than men to wear masks.
About 67% of women said they had worn a mask outside their home, compared with 56% of men, according to the Gallup poll, which was based on a random sample of 2,451 U.S. adults 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 seat belts.”
A preprint study — posted online in May, but not published in a scientific journal and not yet peer-reviewed — found that American men were less likely to wear face masks and that fewer men than women believed that they would be seriously affected by the coronavirus.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, California, 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 that 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,” Alexander said. “Do men want to show that worry, concern and vulnerability?”
Alexander said public health officials should work on shifting that narrative: Masks don’t indicate fear; they signal compassion for others.
Democrats are more likely to say they’ve worn masks than Republicans.
Of those polled by Gallup, 75% of Democrats said they had worn a mask in public, while 58% 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, although 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% of Democrats said they had worn a mask compared with 79% 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.
People in densely populated cities are more likely to say they are wearing masks.
Gallup found that city and suburban residents were more likely to wear masks than those in more rural areas.
Nearly one-third of Americans live in one of the 100 most densely populated U.S. counties. 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% 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.
College graduates are somewhat more likely to say they have worn a mask.
According to the Gallup poll, 66% of the college graduates surveyed said they had worn a mask in public. About 60% 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.