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Western University researchers reveal who is most likely to adhere to public health precautions

An analysis of Statistics Canada data that asked Canadians which public health precautions they were going to adhere to has shown who is, and isn't, likely to wear a mask, keep their distance, avoid crowds and give their hands a good scrubbing.

Older immigrant women living in urban centres are most likely to follow guidelines, analysis shows

People wearing masks walk by Parliament Hill in Ottawa during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Mathieu Theriault/CBC)

Researchers at Western University are looking at who in Canada is most likely to wear a mask, keep a distance, avoid crowds and scrub their hands.

They've done an analysis of Statistics Canada data gathered three months into the pandemic to assess the demographic type willing or unwilling to follow public health precautions to prevent COVID-19. 

Researchers say young men who were born in Canada and live in rural areas are most unwilling. If they work in the trades, the reluctance to follow health guidelines increases even more. 

The people most likely to follow the rules?

Older immigrant women living in Canadian cities, said Western University researcher Anthony Jehn, who analyzed the StatsCan data, the first such deep-dive into information collected by the statistics agency.

"In June, we were coming out of lockdown, and I thought it would be particularly interesting to start looking at whether or not people were complying with the most recommended measures that could be taken to prevent the spread of the virus," the doctoral candidate in sociology said. 

Mask-wearing not popular

"What we found is that there is a variability between populations in terms of their willingness or desire to use these recommended precautions." 

Statistics Canada had asked 4,300 Canadians which of four precautions they were likely to use: mask-wearing, avoiding crowds, keeping distance and hand washing. The sampling is representative of Canadians in the 10 provinces, but not the territories. 

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"The use of face masks was particularly low across the entire population. We found that approximately 67 per cent of adults at the time were willing to use a mask," Jehn said.

"People did report a high rate of handwashing, but there's a caveat — we know that people tend to over-report hand hygiene because people want to appear as if they're washing their hands after they go to the bathroom and so forth, but that's not necessarily actually the case. They're just embarrassed to say they don't actually do it because it's not socially acceptable." 

Young, Canadian men in rural areas

Slightly more than 80 per cent of people said they would practice social distancing and avoiding large crowds, the numbers showed. 

Jehn broke the numbers down further by gender, age, immigrant status and where people lived.

"We found that female older adults who are immigrants living in urban areas of the country were the most likely to use all of these precautions. Males, younger adults, non-immigrants living in rural areas were the least likely to want to use any precautionary behaviour." 

In general, women are more likely to have positive health behaviours, and men take more risks, Jehn said. Younger adults might not perceive COVID-19 as a threat to their own demographic, whereas older adults do. Many immigrants are used to wearing masks or taking other precautions, Jehn said. 

When he looked at socioeconomic status, Jehn compared education levels. He found that those with a certificate in the trades were the least likely to say they'll be taking precautions — less than those who have a high school diploma and less than those who have a university degree. 

"Typically, we do find that people working in the trades have worse health behaviours than other segments of the adult population. For whatever reason, they take on more risk-taking behaviours," Jehn said. 

Policymakers should take a look at the demographic data to target the parts of the population that are least likely to take precautions with public-health guidelines and messages, Jehn said. 

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