Do You Socially Distance? Your Income Might Matter

TUESDAY, Jan. 19, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Do you you keep 6 feet apart from others to help stop coronavirus spread? New research shows that the wealthier you were at the start of the pandemic, the more likely it is you’ll maintain social distance.

The new study looked at social distancing and mask wearing, and determined a link between those behaviors and income.

“We need to understand these differences because we can wring our hands, and we can blame and shame, but in a way it doesn’t matter,” said study author Nick Papageorge, the Broadus Mitchell Associate Professor of Economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“Policymakers just need to recognize who is going to socially distance, for how long, why and under what circumstances to give us accurate predictions of how the disease will spread and help us establish policies that will be useful,” he said in a Hopkins news release.

The research was part of a six-country survey. In the United States, 1,000 people from Texas, Florida, California and New York were asked questions last April about demographic information and their behavior as COVID-19 cases were spiking.

People with the highest incomes made the most changes. They were 32% more likely to increase social distancing, 30% more likely to increase hand-washing and mask wearing and 13% more likely to change behaviors.

The ability to work from home and having access to outdoor space made a significant difference.

People with higher incomes were more likely to be able to work from home, which made them 24% more likely to keep social distance. Lower-income people experienced increased chances of losing their job because of the pandemic, and they also had limited access to remote work, the study found.

“The whole messaging of this pandemic is you’re stuck at home teleworking, that must be really tough so here are some recipes for sourdough starter, and here’s what you should catch up on Netflix,” Papageorge said. “But what about the people who aren’t teleworking? What are they going to do?”

People with access to the outdoors at home were 20% more likely to maintain social distance.

“It’s not shocking that if you don’t live in a comfortable house you’re going to be leaving your house more often,” Papageorge said. “But the point we want to push is that if I’m a policymaker maybe I really need to think about opening city parks in a dense neighborhood during a pandemic. Maybe that’s something that’s worth the risk. This is why we want to understand these details — they can eventually suggest policies.”

The study also found that women were 23% more likely than men to social distance. There was not a meaningful difference in social distancing behavior because of preexisting health conditions.

The research was published Jan. 14 in the Journal of Population Economics.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information on protecting yourself and others from COVID-19.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University, news release, Jan. 14, 2021