Life Science Young men are the worst at following social distancing guidelines
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Young men are the worst at following social distancing guidelines

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Social distancing has been hailed as one of the biggest success stories in stopping the spread of COVID-19, but not all of us are practising it equally.

And a study has found it’s young blokes (aged 18 to 24) who are the worst at social distancing.

They’re most likely to flout the 1.5-metre rule for reasons like “my street is too crowded” and “people need me to do errands for them”.

The US-Canada joint research team came to this declaration by surveying 2000-plus adults across Europe and North America during March and April about social distancing, which included keeping a one to two-metre distance from others and avoiding unnecessary travel.

They wanted to find out just who was (or wasn’t) adhering to the practice and why (or why not) to better inform public health outcomes into the future.

Sisters doing it for everyone

It was women, predominately aged over 45, who were the best at avoiding unnecessary in-person socialising, the results showed.

Again, it was women (aged 25 and over) who demonstrated the 1.5-metre rule the best, citing reasons like “wanting to protect others” and “feeling responsible for the community”.

So why the gender gap?

The authors theorise it could be in part because women, as a gender, are more likely to seek health information, and they’re less likely to demonstrate risky behaviour.

For the young ‘uns, researchers say it’s because this 18 to 24 age group probably has a stronger want to socialise in person, to feed into their need for feelings of belongingness.

two women bump elbows while social distancing
Handshakes are out – elbow taps are in. To be totally COVID-safe, these guys should be wearing masks, too. Photo: Getty

Social patterns

The results also mirrored what we’ve come to understand about the different socio-economic demographics in Australia: Those who had attained higher education were more likely to be able to work or study remotely, therefore comply easier with social distancing regulations.

The authors also write that many of the results are in line with the respondents’ country’s regulations at the time: If there were more strict (even police enforced) guidelines in place, people were more likely to stick to social distancing.

They say there’s a possibility the world might see a spike in COVID-19 cases if distancing measures are relaxed.

“It is imperative that public health initiatives focus on wider-scale testing and contact tracing, coupled with continued recommendations for social distancing and proper hygiene,” they wrote in conclusion.

The findings were published in PLOS One this week, and the research undertaken by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.