UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics

ARE Researchers Find Social Distancing Varies by Income Level in New PNAS Study

Aug. 11, 2020

Led by ARE Ph.D. student Joakim Weill, and co-authored by ARE Ph.D. alumnus Matthieu Stigler, ESP associate professor Michael Springborn, and UC Santa Barbara professor Olivier Deschenes, the new study illustrates how income disparities effect exposure to COVID-19. Here’s how Joakim explained the findings to WIRED magazine: “In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a clear mobility response across the board. In the US, everyone started to stay at home more. But we also found that there is a clear differential between wealthier communities and poor communities, where individuals in wealthier neighborhoods tended to stay at home much more than people in poorer neighborhoods.”

The study used cell phone location data and census income data to track the movements of millions of Americans. The research provides important insights into the risk of exposure to the virus across income levels, particularly for people from lower-income communities. They often have to deal with the combined burden of preexisting health conditions, less access to health care, and less capacity to cope with economic and health shocks, and they exhibit less social distancing behavior.

This research could help determine who should get the first vaccines. Weill believes that, initially, vaccines “should be provided to essential workers or people in low-income communities that probably are at increased risk of contracting the virus, and are so much more vulnerable to it when they get it.”

Read the full report here.


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