World Leaders and COVID-19: Women, Populists, and Political Families Reacted Faster

40 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2020

Date Written: November 10, 2020


The pandemic posed a dramatic challenge to practically all heads of government: the measures they took had an enormous impact on the lives and livelihoods of their citizens. Growing conventional wisdom proposes that populists failed to deal with the pandemic while women dignitaries thrived. However, these accounts are merely supported by anecdotal evidence. I conduct a systematic evaluation of the performance of world leaders during the pandemic, taking their speed of reaction as an indicator of achievement. I argue that populists should not have reacted slower than their counterparts because they faced contradictory motivations to handle the pandemic. I also propose that women and leaders with more formal and informal political experience reacted faster. The former because glass ceilings force women to endure a more difficult selection process to become heads of government, while the latter should have reacted faster given their superior expertise. Using a unique database with biographical information of 166 heads of government, a cross-sectional survival analysis reveals that populists, women, and leaders from political families reacted faster than their counterparts to the public health crisis.

Keywords: COVID-19, Heads of Government, Political Leadership, Populists, Women

Suggested Citation

Arana Araya, Ignacio, World Leaders and COVID-19: Women, Populists, and Political Families Reacted Faster (November 10, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Ignacio Arana Araya (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
4124828636 (Phone)
15214 (Fax)

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