Years of surveys, observations and research have found that women are more likely to wash their hands, use soap and scrub for a longer period of time than men after using the restroom. However, there's still a surprisingly large portion of both sexes who don't wash their hands at all
Handwashing with soap water or sanitiser has been the number one advice from WHO since the epidemic started taking toll around the world. It is regarded as the best weapon to fight against the novel coronavirus.
However, there's one big yet little discussed difference when it comes to this essential personal hygiene habit: Women are hands down better handwashers than men, reports CNN.
Years of surveys, observations and research have found that women are more likely to wash their hands, use soap and scrub for a longer period of time than men after using the restroom. However, there's still a surprisingly large portion of both sexes who don't wash their hands at all.
People lie about washing their hands
Researchers have had to come up with clever ways to collect this data, since most people will tell you that they think handwashing after using the bathroom is important. That's even if they don't actually do it.
Carl Borchgrevink, director of the School of Hospitality at Michigan State University said most people agree with the general notion that handwashing after using bathroom is important but you'll find that most of them don't follow the advice themselves.
When researchers only ask about people's handwashing habits, "We found that the data that people were reporting seemed to be too high," he said.
To dig deeper into what people really do after using the bathroom, Borchgrevink tasked 12 research assistants at Michigan State University with the job of surreptitiously hanging out in four different restrooms on and off campus to record what 3,749 men and women actually did.
The results of the 2013 study were shocking to the researchers.
Few people wash their hands correctly
Some 15% of men didn't wash their hands at all, compared with 7% of women. When they did wash their hands, only 50% of men used soap, compared with 78% of women.
Overall, only 5% of people who used the bathroom washed their hands long enough to kill the germs that can cause infections.
A bigger study published was conducted in the UK in 2009 in a public restroom on almost 200,000 restroom trips over three months period.
It found that only 31% of men and 65% of women washed their hands with soap in a public restroom where the data was collected over three months period on almost 200,000 restroom trips.
It's a big gap -- clearly twice as many women as men were washing their hands," said Susan Michie, health psychology professor and director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at the Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology at University College London.
"Another interesting result was that the more people were in the toilet area the more they were likely to wash their hands," Michie added.
Not just US and UK, a review published on the subject in 2016 looked at research from dozens of different countries, and found that women were 50% more likely than men to practice, or increase, protective behavior like proper hand-washing, mask-wearing and surface cleaning in the context of an epidemic, like flu.
Now, why is there a gender gap?
There's been far less research done on why there is such a gap between the sexes when it comes to hand-washing. Michie said it was likely socially programmed behavior, not genetic.
"Women are more focused on care than men -- childcare, household care, personal care," she said.
Similarly, Borchgrevink he suggested that it could be down to a sense that men were too macho to fear germs. Becasue I talked to some men and asked "Why didn't you wash your hands?" They looked at me indignantly saying , 'I'm clean, I don't need to wash my hands.' They had a sense of invincibility."
Motivating men to wash their hands
Susan Michie conducted sample research at the toilet stoppage on the highway of UK for testing what kind of messages induced handwashing behaviour in men and women.
She saw while not confirming the finding, that men and women responded to different types of messaging around handwashing. Messages that triggered disgust ("Soap it off or eat it later") resonated with men, while women were more motivated to wash by messages that activated knowledge, such as "Water doesn't kill germs, soap does."
Michie said she wasn't aware of any public health campaigns that had focused their efforts on men in light of their handwashing lapses, but said this was the perfect moment to try.
"It's an excellent idea to target men. It could be really helpful. If women knew men weren't doing it, they'd get on to them."