Social Distancing: Who Maintains, Who Doesn’t?

Over at ProMarket, Tim Besley and Sacha Dray assess One Year Into the Pandemic: Who Maintains Social Distancing and Who Doesn’t.  Their full analysis is well worth reading. They write that

social capital is an important factor behind reducing risks of infection. Social capital is an index that encompasses the presence of strong social networks, vibrant civil society, and trust in institutions. We rely on a social capital index that summarizes 10 economic, social, and demographic indicators measuring the strength of social networks such as the share of single households, number of nonprofit organizations, the share of mail-back response rate for the Census, or the number of violent crimes. Remarkably, counties with higher levels of social capital were on average significantly more prone to respect measures that stopped the spread of the virus. This suggests that having stronger norms of doing things together leads people to adopt more altruistic behaviors or elicits stronger reciprocity if it encourages the belief that other residents will be more likely to comply.

This finding doesn’t seem remarkable at all, but rather almost expected. Those with developed social networks may intuit, correctly, that those networks are vulnerable to infection between people, and can best be preserved against permanent ruin through temporary reductions in social activity (or with reliable protective measures against transmission of disease).

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