10. Social capital and COVID-19

The pandemic made volunteering via official organisations more difficult, but signs of mutual solidarity were visible throughout the OECD, and charitable giving increased

The way in which formal organisations co-ordinated volunteering in the past were impacted by the pandemic in multiple respects. For sanitary reasons, hospitals had to suspend many volunteer programmes, while religious, sports and recreation, as well as arts and cultural gatherings and events, were cancelled, with only some activity moving online. Community-led services (such as food banks) had to quickly implement social distancing and other health protection measures in the face of increasing demand for their services. In addition, increased care responsibilities due to COVID-19 restrictions are likely to have cut into people’s available time for volunteering, particularly for women, parents with young children and elderly people.

As a consequence, formal volunteering fell across the OECD. In 2020, only 17% of people in OECD countries said they volunteered for an organisation in the past month, compared to 20% in 2019 (Figure 10.1, Panel A). Although volunteering increased in a small number of countries in Eastern Europe as well as in Iceland and Greece, more than half of OECD members recorded losses, including drops of more than 9 percentage points in Canada, Israel, Korea, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. Overall, this represents the lowest share of volunteers across the OECD in the past decade, accelerating the historical downward trend of voluntary engagement via formally established civil society organisations, neighbourhood clubs and charities (Figure 10.1, Panel B).1 Available official data confirms this pattern: for instance, 21% of Australians said in March 2021 that they had volunteered for an organisation or group in the last 12 months, compared to 26% a year before (ABS, 2021[1]).2 The loss of key social relationships and of a sense of purpose by giving up volunteering is likely to have had detrimental effects on social connectedness and the mental health particularly of elderly volunteers (What Works Wellbeing, 2020[2]). Indeed, a representative April 2020 survey in Australia revealed that volunteers over the age of 65, as well as women, were more likely to have stopped volunteering compared to the general population (Biddle and Gray, 2020[3]).

Informal support between people in OECD countries remained robust through the crisis. Almost half (44%) of people across all OECD countries reported having helped a stranger in the preceding month during 2020, a similar share as in 2019 (Gallup, n.d.[4]). And, a quarter of people across 14 OECD countries stated in September 2020 that they had provided assistance in the past week, such as running an errand or providing childcare for friends, neighbours or co-workers without expecting anything in return (Imperial College London YouGov, 2020[5]).

Trust in others has increased in some countries, but many perceive their societies to be more divided since the onset of COVID-19

There are indications that interpersonal trust increased in the first year of the pandemic. Very few data exist on how trust in other people, an important proxy for social capital, has developed over the course of COVID-19. However, In Germany, trust in others was higher for almost all population groups in both April-June 2020 and January-February 2021, compared to 2018 (Figure 10.2). This might be due to people having more trust in government (see next section), or having witnessed others complying with social distancing and experiencing local support, for instance between neighbours, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic (DIE ZEIT, 2020[6]).3

It remains to be seen whether such effects will be long-lived. In New Zealand, levels of interpersonal trust increased in June 2020, but then returned to their 2018 baseline by September (Figure 10.7).4 Previous pandemics, such as the 1918–19 Spanish flu, ended up having negative effects on interpersonal trust that persisted for at least a generation, while evidence from the Global Financial Crisis links regional income decline in Russia with decreasing trust in others (which did not revert to pre-crisis levels again despite economic recovery) (Aassve et al., 2020[8]; Ananyev and Guriev, 2019[9]). In addition, after being evenly split on whether the pandemic had brought people together in June-August 2020, the majority of adults in 12 OECD members found their country to be “more divided now than before the coronavirus outbreak” by February-May 2021 (Figure 10.3, Panels A and B). In all countries surveyed, those who think their country has done a bad job of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak were more likely to say that their country is more divided (Pew Research Center, 2020[10]). In addition, interpersonal trust and political preferences are related to perceptions of unity: across the surveyed OECD members, at least a third of respondents who said their country is more divided also reported that “most people cannot be trusted”; and in Europe, right-wing populist party supporters see more division since the pandemic began (Figure 10.3, Panel C).

Interpersonal trust was an important resilience factor in 2020

More trusting communities were better protected from pandemic effects in the medium-term.5 Higher interpersonal trust has been associated with better hygienic practices, greater compliance with social distancing, and lower mortality rates. In Germany, for instance, high interpersonal trust was linked to adherence to more hygienic practices as well as to greater willingness to be vaccinated (DIW, 2021[12]). In countries where a comparatively high share of people (in 2019) felt it likely that a dropped wallet would be returned to its owner (a measure of the trustworthiness of other people), there were on average almost 50 fewer deaths per 100 000 population in 2020 compared to countries where this likelihood was perceived as low, a pattern that holds after controlling for a range of other factors (Helliwell et al., 2020[13]).6 In the United States, counties in the 75th percentile distribution of interpersonal trust experienced 18% fewer COVID-19 infections and 5.7% fewer deaths between March and July 2020 than those at the 25th percentile (Makridis and Wu, 2021[14]). And, within-country analysis from seven European OECD members (Austria, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) shows that while COVID-19 infections were more prevalent in areas with high social capital at the onset of the pandemic in mid-March, the same communities experienced faster adoption of voluntary containment measures and of reductions in mobility, and sharper decrease in infections (Bartscher et al., 2020[15]).7 Consequently, a one standard deviation increase in social capital was associated with between 12% and 32% fewer registered COVID-19 cases per capita until mid-May 2020.

Social norms are important mediating factors for collective action. However, trust in others can also turn into a double-edged sword, depending on prevailing social attitudes. In the United States, counties with higher trust in others featured lower compliance with lockdown restrictions whenever most people in the county were against those restrictions; while in Switzerland, cantons with higher generalised trust levels experienced smaller reductions in mobility when most people in the canton favoured a limited role of the government (welfare state) (Goldstein and Wiedemann, 2020[16]; Deopa and Forunato, 2020[17]). The strength of social norms and tolerance for people who violate them – what researchers have termed “cultural tightness–looseness” – also varies between countries. “Tighter” cultures tend to have stricter rules and punishments for deviance, whereas “looser” cultures tend to have weaker norms and are more open and permissive (Gelfand et al., 2021[18]).8 While there is no preferable model of societal norms, the order and co-ordination that “tightness” confers has historically developed in response to higher rates of natural disasters, disease prevalence, resource scarcity and foreign invasions. This turned out to be an asset when faced with COVID-19: using a 57-country dataset that includes 28 OECD members and controlling for a range of factors, nations with high levels of cultural “looseness” reported less fear of COVID-19 than “tight” cultures, but they also had almost five times the number of cases and almost nine times the number of deaths than “loose” countries as of October 2020 (Gelfand et al., 2021[18]).

In 2020, trust in institutions rose as people turned to their governments in a time of crisis, but this “rallying round the flag” effect started to wear off by early 2021

Like trust in others, trust in institutions has been a key factor for successful pandemic management. As has been shown by past pandemics such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-16, greater trust in government is associated with higher compliance with health policies (Blair, Morse and Tsai, 2017[19]). Across European regions, trust in policy makers pre-outbreak was associated with stronger decreases in mobility around the time of lockdown announcements in mid-March 2000, while the efficiency of policy stringency in terms of mobility reduction significantly increased with trust (Bargain and Aminjonov, 2020[20]). Results from a nationally representative survey in Denmark at the end of February 2020 showed that trust in governments was positively correlated with people’s willingness to practice physical distancing (Olsen and Hjorth, 2020[21]). In Finland, respondents to a Citizens’ Pulse Survey (carried out in co-operation with the OECD) who said that they were unwilling to comply with COVID-19 restrictions in November 2020 also reported statistically significant lower levels of trust in public institutions (Figure 10.4).

In most OECD countries, institutional trust in 2020 was at its highest since records began in 2006, and it continued to rise until the end of the year. Trust in national governments rose markedly in the majority of OECD countries (with the exception of Eastern Europe) as COVID-19 unfolded: although “only” 50% of people in OECD countries reported confidence in national governments throughout 2020, this is a 5 percentage point increase relative to the previous year (Figure 10.5, Panel A). Historically, OECD average trust in government fell consistently in the five-year period following the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, beginning an unsteady climb-back from 2014. In 2019, it exceeded pre-GFC levels, and it continued to rise in 2020, reaching its highest point since data collection started in 2006 (Figure 10.5, Panel B).

The increase of trust in institutions carries many elements of a “rallying round the flag” effect. This phenomenon refers to national unity in the face of common threats, and is characterised by temporary surges in public approval for governments or political leaders during periods of crisis or war (such as in the aftermath of 9/11), as well as less attention to other policy issues (Mueller, 1970[23]; Chatagnier, 2012[24]; OECD, 2021[25]). In the context of COVID-19, lockdown measures in European countries between March-April 2020 were associated with stronger support for the party of the incumbent prime minister/president, as well as with higher trust in government and satisfaction with democracy, without affecting traditional left-right attitudes (Bol et al., 2021[26]). In Spain, demand for strong leadership, willingness to give up individual freedoms and support for technocratic governance all increased in March 2020 (Amat et al., 2020[27]). Panel data from the Netherlands in March 2020 also show that some of the traditional drivers of institutional trust, such as people’s evaluations of economic performance, lost their explanatory power and were superseded by collective distress as infections rose (Schraff, 2020[28]).

The “rallying round the flag” phenomenon also contributed to the narrowing of inequalities in institutional trust throughout 2020. As the pandemic unfolded, the share of people with confidence in the national government rose for all age and income groups, including for those at the bottom of the income distribution who traditionally trust institutions less, and for young people, even though they were affected most by school and university closures and employment losses (Figure 10.6).9 Trust in government increased the most for those aged 65 or over, who are most at risk from (and likely have the greatest fear of) the virus.

These gains in institutional trust are likely to be temporary and by early 2021 they showed signs of wearing off. In New Zealand, where the initial impacts of the pandemic have been limited by rapid shutdowns and strict border controls, trust in various public institutions was slightly higher in June 2020 compared to 2018 but, except for parliament and the health system, returned to baseline levels by September and remained there until March 2021 (Figure 10.7).10 In Finland, trust in various institutions (the government, parliament, civil service and political parties) in April 2021 was lower than in May 2020, despite a temporary rebound in January 2021, which might be attributed partially to the relatively good handling of the second wave of the pandemic (OECD, 2021[22]). Overall in Europe, trust in the government, the police and the media started to edge down slowly between April-May 2020 and January-February 2021, while across the OECD there are signs that people were more critically evaluating their leaders in the first months of vaccine rollout (Figure 10.8, Figure 10.9).11 According to the Edelman Trust Barometer survey covering 14 OECD members, trust in government in January 2021 was still higher than a year prior (before COVID-19 hit) in all countries except Japan and Korea, but had started to fall compared to May 2020 (Edelman, 2021[29]).12 If the “rally round the flag” effect wears off, and the traditional drivers of institutional trust such as job and financial security regain importance, then limiting the impact of phasing out government support programmes is likely to play an important role in institutional trust in the future (see Chapter 1).13

Widespread emergency measures and social distancing regulations affected civil liberties…

Citizens across the OECD experienced a temporary rollback of individual freedoms for prolonged periods in 2020. In order to deal with rising COVID-19 infection numbers and prevent hospitals from collapsing, the governments of countries worldwide, including OECD members, took drastic measures: people’s freedom of movement was limited by border closures, international travel bans, and restrictions on domestic travel and use of public transport. To varying degrees, governments imposed states of emergency; introduced compulsory social distancing, lockdowns, curfews and mask-wearing; confined people to their homes, except for limited activities; prevented public gatherings other than for small crowds; closed educational and cultural establishments; postponed elections; enacted surveillance on citizens’ movements via mobile phone applications; and used the force of the law, including the military, for enforcement (IDEA, 2021[34]; ICNL, n.d.[35]; CIVICUS, 2021[36]; Carnegie Europe, 2020[37]; Open Government Partnership, n.d.[38]; OECD, 2020[39]). Consequently, 2020 scores for the “private civil liberties” component on the V-DEM Varieties of Democracy Project, an expert-based dataset trying to capture nations’ state of democracy, fell by 80% across OECD countries year-on-year (V-Dem Institute, n.d.[40]).14 Other expert-based measures such as the Economist Intelligence Unit Civil Liberties Index come to similar conclusions (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020[41]).

…and the COVID-19 response has posed certain risks for government transparency

The speed and scale with which governments implemented their response to the unprecedented nature of COVID-19 have posed risks for transparency, openness and stakeholder consultation. At the outset of the pandemic, few OECD governments had structured capacity to gather scientific advice about how they should adapt to novel and complex crises.15 A recent review of practice in OECD countries in 2020 indicates that, while many countries put in place ad-hoc institutional arrangements to gather scientific advice as the pandemic unfolded, only a minority set up formal processes (such as peer reviews) to ensure the quality, authority and legitimacy of scientific advice. In addition, members of scientific task forces have seldom been asked to disclose potential conflicts of interest (OECD, 2021[25]). Active engagement of external stakeholders in policy making has often been limited: although 20 of 26 governments (77%) report having consulted stakeholders on their COVID-19 response strategies, only 9 (35%) actively involved them in policy design (OECD, 2021[25]).16 In addition, when taking a risk-based approach in prioritising the most time-critical processes, stakeholder engagement practices relied upon shorter consultation periods and more focused consultation activities; in some cases, regulators put consultations on hold, recognising the limited ability of stakeholders to take part (OECD, 2021[25]). Moreover, formal channels for the public to voice an opinion on (or shape the evolution of) the decided measures were only rarely created (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020[41]).17

Governments also had to fast-track many new regulations and cut back on impact assessments and the usual system of checks and balances. Prior to the crisis, only around one-third of OECD countries had established some form of exception to the requirement to carry out regulatory impact assessments (RIAs) in emergency responses (OECD, 2018[42]). Various flexible approaches were therefore employed towards RIA during COVID-19. These ranged from exemptions (e.g. Australia, Belgium) to ensuring that policy documents at least discussed qualitative impacts (e.g. the United Kingdom).The usual procedures to scrutinise the quality of RIAs for emergency regulations were often not followed or were shortened, although some oversight bodies have required follow-up once evidence becomes available, and in many cases the use of temporary regulations and sunset clauses has offset the risks to democratic oversight (OECD, 2020[43]). In addition, while most parliaments adopted fast-track legislative acts initiated by the government or converted into law the decrees adopted in response to the pandemic, the executive branch played a more dominant role in most OECD countries – particularly in those where legislative oversight of government was already comparably low pre-COVID-19 (Griglio, 2020[44]; European Parliament Think Tank, 2020[45]; V-Dem Institute, n.d.[40]; World Justice Project, n.d.[46]). In some OECD countries, requests by citizens to access information were either delayed or the timeline for answering them was officially extended or suspended (e.g. in Canada, Colombia, France, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States) (ICNL, n.d.[35]).18

Although restrictions might be necessary in light of the extraordinary public health threat that citizens faced, democratic engagement and oversight should be quickly restored to avoid long-term damage to both policy quality and trust in institutions. Recent OECD research pointed to the risk of “mission creep”, i.e. once new powers are introduced they are difficult to reverse, even when a crisis has passed (OECD, 2020[39]; OECD, 2020[47]). The importance of procedural utility (i.e. the importance of how outcomes are achieved, beyond the outcomes themselves) for trust in institutions and life satisfaction is well established (Benz, Frey and Stutzer, 2002[48]), pointing to the importance of quickly restoring good government practices in the aftermath of the crisis. Already prior to COVID-19, in 2018, only 35% of people in 22 European OECD countries reported feeling confident participating in politics, and 40% of people in 26 European OECD countries believed the political system in their countries allowed people like them to have a say in what the government does (OECD, 2021[25]). In addition, in line with institutional trust, citizens’ satisfaction with democracy rose in the initial months of the pandemic but peaked by early 2021: for example, in Germany, the mean score for satisfaction with democracy on a 0-10 scale was 6.2 in January-February 2021 – considerably higher than the 2016 level of 5.8, but below the April-June heights of 6.5 (SOEP-CoV, n.d.[49]). Similar patterns are emerging for other European countries (Eurofound, n.d.[32]). The OECD has identified three areas as crucial for boosting trust and transparency, and for safeguarding democracy: tackling misinformation; ensuring that public decision-making and services are more transparent, fair and representative of the diverse nature of societies; and strengthening foresight and governance mechanisms, including data-sharing across agencies, to be more prepared for future crises (OECD, 2021[25]).

Gender parity in politics slowly progressed in 2020, but remains far from parity, including in COVID-19 task forces

Progress towards gender parity and diversity in politics continued in 2020, although most countries remain far from equality. The share of women in politics is an important indicator of the inclusiveness of decision-making, and of gender equality more generally (Beaman et al., 2012[50]; OECD, 2020[51]). The share of female members of parliament increased in 10 out of 14 legislative elections that took place between January 2020 and June 2021 (Figure 10.10). In Ireland, women gained six additional seats in the indirectly elected Seanad Éireann (upper chamber), bringing the average to 40%, 10 percentage points higher than the share since 2011. However, compared to 2016, the share of women in the Dáil Éireann (lower chamber) remained stable at 22.5%, despite a record number of female candidates (IPU, 2021[52]). The United States experienced historically high levels of women’s representation in Congress (26.9% combined for both chambers), and elected its first female and Black vice president, as well as the first person in this position of South Asian descent. After the October 2020 elections, New Zealand now has the most diverse government in the world, with almost half of MPs being women, 11% identifying as LGBTQ+, and both Māori and people with Pacific Island heritage represented at a slightly higher rate than in the general population. In addition, for the first time both major party candidates for prime minister were women (CNN, 2020[53]). Nevertheless, in only four of the legislative bodies that were re-elected in 2020 (the New Zealand Parliament, the Netherland’s House of Representatives and the French and Irish upper houses) the share of women exceeded one-third, while the share of women in parliament declined in the Czech Republic and in the 2021 Israeli elections. On average across OECD countries, 31.6% of the seats in the lower/single houses of their parliaments were held by women in 2021, compared to 26% almost a decade ago (OECD, 2021[25]).19

Gender equality has also improved when it comes to leadership roles in the cabinet and central government as well as in COVID-19 task forces. In 2021, on average across OECD countries, 34% of federal/central government ministerial positions were held by women, an increase of 6 percentage points since 2017 (OECD, 2021[25]). But, while the share of women in senior positions in central government increased in most OECD countries since 2015, on average, only 37% of senior roles in central government were held by women in 2020 (OECD, 2021[25]). In almost all OECD countries, the share of women in middle and senior management is lower than for other central government positions, suggesting obstacles in climbing the leadership ladder (OECD, 2021[25]). Moreover, women represented only 35% of the members of COVID-19 task forces by March 2021 (Figure 10.11).

The move towards remote and digital parliamentary practices has both positive and negative implications for female participation in politics

The pandemic changed the way parliaments operated in 2020, with some of these changes being beneficial for women and others introducing new obstacles to female representation. The shift to remote, technology-based parliamentary practices might have a positive long-term impact for women: the use of new technology for debates resulted in new forms of personal interaction, breaking up “old boy” practices that had previously excluded the full participation of women (IPU, 2021[52]; IPU, 2020[55]). Virtual voting and sittings helped participation by members for whom travel is more difficult, including those with disabilities or with young children. Going forward, if legislatures retain these flexible workplace practices, more women might be able to combine caregiving with political careers. However, the pandemic-related disruption of formal political processes towards ad-hoc, informal practices might have also favoured dominant (male) groups. In addition, the increased digital nature of policy making might have increased the exposure of women in politics to online harassment, which is on the rise worldwide (IPU, 2021[52]; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2020[56]). Lastly, as omen across OECD countries were more likely than men to drop out of the labour force during the pandemic, often to return to traditional roles as primary caregivers, it remains to be seen whether the future supply of female candidacies for political office will be interrupted.

Youth remain under-represented in politics

While democracy does not necessarily require institutions to mirror demographics, youth’s under-representation in parliament indicates the existence of norms, rules and regulations that hamper their participation to democratic processes. In 2020, on average across OECD countries, 22% of members of parliaments were under 40, ranging from 36% in Norway to 8% in France. In comparison, 20-39 year-olds represent 34% of the voting-age population across OECD countries, a gap in representation exceeding 12 percentage points (OECD, 2021[25]).20

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Notes

← 1. Reasons for the decline in volunteering via established organisations are complex, but include consolidations of churches and schools especially in rural areas and declining rates of home ownership (which are likely to make a person more interested in giving back to a specific community) (Dietz and Grimm, 2019[62]).

← 2. The most common reasons for people not volunteering for an organisation or group in the last four weeks were that they could not fit volunteering in around paid work (31%) and they could not fit it around family or caring commitments (22%).

← 3. Evidence from a Citizens’ Pulse Survey carried out in co-operation with the OECD in Finland between May and November 2020 indicates that while respondents initially considered others to be complying with COVID-19-related restrictions, this share progressively fell starting in June (OECD, 2021[22]).

← 4. Some caution needs to be exercised when comparing 2020 data from the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) supplement (see Box 4.1) with estimates produced from the General Social Survey, as differences in collection method, sampled population, reporting periods, and restrictions on face-to-face interviewing, among other things, may all impact on comparability.

← 5. There is some evidence that in the early stages of the pandemic, before April 2020, European countries with higher levels of interpersonal trust, government effectiveness, and freedom were generally slower in implementing containment measures such as school closures, national lockdowns and states of emergency. Factors associated with a faster initial response include decentralisation, separate ministries of health and health ministers with a medical background (Toshkov, Yesilkagit and Carroll, 2020[63]).

← 6. This study included 142 countries worldwide, including all OECD members.

← 7. The authors repeat their analysis with different measures of social capital that are all related to interpersonal trust: voter turnout in the 2019 European elections, blood donations and historical literacy rates.

← 8. To assess cultural tightness–looseness, the level of agreement with a battery of survey items is used, including items such as, “There are many social norms that people are supposed to abide by in this country”, “There are very clear expectations for how people should act in most situations”, “In this country, if someone acts in an inappropriate way, others will strongly disapprove”, and, “People in this country almost always comply with social norms”.

← 9. Snapshot data from an OECD survey of youth organisations in April 2020 also shows that, on aggregate, trust in government had increased for 43% of the youth organisations surveyed across 48 countries since the outbreak of COVID-19 (OECD, 2020[65]).

← 10. Over the four quarters, Māori consistently gave lower mean ratings for trust in the health system than people with European, Pacific peoples or Asian ethnicity, and the national average. The mean ratings given by Māori were 7.1 in the June 2020 quarter (national average:7.4), 6.8 in the September 2020 quarter (national average: 7.2), 6.7 in the December 2020 quarter (national average: 7.2) and 6.8 in the March 2021 quarter (national average: 7.2) (StatsNZ, 2021[30]).

← 11. Recent OECD work has addressed the role of governments in promoting confidence in the effectiveness and safety of vaccines through effective communication, as well as trust in their ability to procure and distribute the vaccines efficiently and equitably (OECD, 2021[25]).

← 12. OECD members covered by the Edelman Trust Barometer are Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.

← 13. In addition, government competencies and values have been identified as important drivers of trust pre-COVID (Murtin et al., 2018[64]; OECD, 2017[61]; OECD, 2021[22]).

← 14. This measure takes into account whether citizens enjoy freedom of foreign and domestic movement, freedom of religion and organisation, property rights as well as freedom from forced labour, with the freedom of movement components constituting about one-fourth of the overall score.

← 15. In 2018, only half of OECD countries had a specific government department or institution whose purpose was to identify novel, unforeseen or complex crises (OECD, 2018[60]).

← 16. Although 73% of centres of government increased the number of stakeholders joining co-ordination meetings, there are no data on the extent to which groups other than scientific experts were involved (OECD, 2021[25]).

← 17. Traditional crisis communication has often been implemented in a top-down manner, with messages delivered from governments to citizens (OECD, 2016[59]). During COVID-19, some countries have innovated by developing two-way crisis communication to foster dialogue and help governments understand citizens’ questions and concerns. For example, Slovenia established a call centre for citizens to engage with public health professionals. This allowed citizens to receive immediate responses to health and safety issues and gave government a more thorough and immediate knowledge of citizens’ concerns (OECD, 2021[25]).

← 18. There were also practical reasons that limited the governments’ ability to respond to requests for access to information, with public officials working from home and difficulties to access government records, and some countries introduced legal changes for filing requests to allow electronic means and prioritised requests relating to the pandemic.

← 19. While media attention in 2020 focused on the claim that women were more effective political leaders throughout the pandemic, this is a spurious correlation: both female and male leaders were better able to respond to the pandemic in wealthy, liberal democracies with high state capacity and good governance (Piscopo, 2020[57]). In addition, data from 132 countries up until mid-June 2020 shows that the gender of executive leaders and legislators was not a factor in determining the timing of adapting information campaigns and containment policies such as stay-at home orders and school closures, nor their duration. However, the likelihood of school closures being delayed increased with the share of women in legislatures (Aldrich and Lotito, 2020[58]).

← 20. Representation gaps are even more pronounced within countries’ political leadership. In 2018, the average age of cabinet members ranged from 45 years in Iceland to 62 years in Japan, with an OECD average of 53 years. The five youngest cabinets across OECD countries were in Iceland (45 years), Norway (46.2), Estonia (47.1), Denmark (47.4) and Finland (47.4). In 2018, across the OECD, only 51 of the then-incumbent cabinet members were under 40 (8%) and only 20 were aged 35 or below (3%) (OECD, 2021[25]).

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