Dr. Kaston Anderson-Carpenter's New Study is the First to Examine Disparities in COVID-19 Social Distancing and Hand Washing in an International Context

April 21, 2022

Dr. Kaston Anderson-Carpenter and undergraduate student Garrett Tacy's new study, published in PLoS ONE, is the first to examine disparities in COVID-19 preventive measures in an international context. Anderson-Carpenter and Tacy measured disparities in handwashing and social distancing in five countries. This study included 2,509 adult participants from the United States, Saudi Arabia, India, Italy, and Spain. These countries reported the highest COVID-19 infection rate in their respective geographical regions in May 2020.

Previous studies suggest that there are social determinants of health risk mitigation strategies. For instance, lower educational attainment and younger age are associated with less social distancing and hand washing. However, findings regarding gender and urbanicity are less consistent. There is also a lack of research on disparities in COVID mitigation strategies for gender and sexual minorities.

Participants completed an online Qualtrics survey in July and August of 2020. Participants indicated their age, sexual orientation (heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual), gender identity (cisgender man, cisgender woman, transgender, nonbinary, gender fluid, or other gender identity), educational attainment, employment status (full-time, part-time, unemployed), and urbanicity (living in an urban, suburban, or rural area). They also completed the COVID Protective Measures Scale, developed by Anderson-Carpenter. Participants indicated their level of agreement with the following four statements on a Likert Scale: "I do not hug people or shake people's hands", "I stay at least two meters away from other people", "I avoid large groups", and "I wash my hands with soap and water for 20 seconds".

Overall, older age and higher educational attainment was associated with greater social distancing and hand washing, and women were more likely to engage in social distancing and proper hand washing techniques than men. Across the analyses, there were differences within countries that were not reflected when the overall sample was used. For instance, the effect of gender on social distancing was greater in Italy and Spain, and was not significant for the United States, India, and Saudi Arabia. Sexual minority status was associated with lower social distancing. For the original publication and a full description of the analyses and results by country, click here.