Men have moved further than women during the UK’s lockdown, a finding that potentially raises questions over whether this could have been a factor in the increased incidence of male hospitalisation and mortality rates from COVID-19. Based on an analysis of anonymised and aggregated GDPR-compliant call detail record (CDR) data provided by project partner, CKDelta, men moved 48% further than women in mid-May, a trend that began in late March roughly one week after the lockdown was announced. After an initial collapse in population movement across the board, both men and women started to become more active. However, since then, men have largely travelled further from home than women on an increasing basis.
According to the data, men in their mid-20s to early 30s have been the sub-set of the UK population that has moved the most, whilst women who moved the most were slightly younger, aged between 23 and 28. By 15th May, men in this group moved 54% further than women of a similar age.
Whereas men aged 31 – 32 had started moving up to 4.45 km on average in the radius around their home area by Friday 15th May, women aged 27 – 28 were moving only 2.84 km on average by the same day. This compared to pre-crisis levels of movement, whereby men and women in these age groups moved on average between 6 km and 8 km during early March. Movement amongst British men in their mid-20s to early 30s during the lockdown has also been increasing at a faster rate than that of the most active British women.
Comparisons in movement between men and women in the UK become even more striking when looking at patterns between men aged in their 50s and women across all age groups. In May, men in their 50s had moved 28% further than the most active sub-group of women during the lockdown period, namely those aged between 23 and 24.
Since 30th March, men in their 50s began to steadily resume their mobility, reaching an average radius of movement around their home areas of 4 km by Friday 15th May. Such differences speak directly to questions about whether higher rates of movement amongst older men, in comparison to women overall, may help to explain higher COVID-19 mortality rates amongst men in contrast to those of women.
Yet another indication of differences in patterns of movement between men and women comes when looking at gender differences for those in the same age group. Here again, beginning on 30th March, men in their 60s started to move more than women of the same or of a similar age from that point forward. One possible explanation for this could be that some men are continuing to travel longer distances to work even during the lockdown, whereas women are more likely to stay closer to their home areas or else commute shorter distances to work. By mid-May, men in their 60s were on average moving 39% further than women also in their 60s.
Once again, such differences between men and women of the same age provide potential insight into why, in addition to the prevalence of underlying health risks, more men than women have fallen victim to COVID-19 or experienced severe symptoms of the virus because of the potential for increased interaction with others or contact with surfaces that can take place due to increased mobility outside of the home. The possibility that this presents is that behaviour, leading to viral exposure, and not just health risk may be a determining factor in increased susceptibility to COVID-19 across different groups in the UK population.
Those aged 65 and over have been the least active during the lockdown. However, like other age groups, they too have begun to increasingly move since 30th March. By 15th May, average movement amongst men aged over 65 had reached 2.5 km. Similarly, there is a difference between men and women in the extent to which they move even amongst those in this oldest age bracket with men moving 30% further than women of the same age.
This raises similar questions about differences in the behavioural patterns of men versus women even amongst those groups who have been recommended by the UK government to practice shielding in order to limit their potential exposure to COVID-19. The trend towards increasing movement amongst those aged 65+ also raises questions over the longer term sustainability of shielding policies aimed at those most at risk of the worst COVID-19 health complications and mortality levels prior to the possibility of mass vaccination.
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank project team member, Bill Wildi, for his excellent research support.
Source: Matthias Qian, Adam Saunders, Daniel Pesch, Steven Reece, Won Do Lee, Xiaowen Dong and Renaud Lambiotte (2020), Oxford COVID-19 Impact Monitor, https://www.oxford-covid-19.com.
Data Source: CKDelta