Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, Steven Davis, 23 September 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a sudden, massive shift around the world to working from home. While there is great concern how this will affect inequality and how the economy will adjust, the shift has also saved billions of hours of commuting time in the US alone. Drawing on original surveys, this column estimates that the shift to working from home lowers commuting time among Americans by more than 60 million hours per workday. Americans devote about a third of the time savings to their primary jobs and about 60% to other work activities, including household chores and childcare. The allocation of time savings differs substantially by education group and between persons with and without children at home.

Yoseph Getachew, 22 September 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers have often relied on epidemiology models to track the spread of the outbreak. However, such models lack the necessary tools to account for individual behaviour potentially influencing the dynamics of the pandemic. This column integrates individual economic decision-making and voluntary social distancing into these models. It argues that voluntary social distancing is important for both flattening the infection curve and minimising economic damage. Although government-enforced social distancing is much more effective in flattening the curve, it comes at a higher cost to the economy.

Nicholas W. Papageorge, Matthew Zahn, Michèle Belot, Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, Syngjoo Choi, Julian C. Jamison, Egon Tripodi, 05 September 2020

Individual behaviours affect the spread of infectious disease. This column examines factors that predict individual behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic in the US using novel survey data. People with lower income and less flexible work arrangements are less likely to engage in behaviours that limit the spread of disease. The burden of measures to stem the pandemic is unevenly distributed across socio-demographic groups in ways that affect behaviour and potentially the spread of illness. Policies that assume otherwise are unlikely to be effective or sustainable.

Luc Laeven, 31 August 2020

Social distancing policies are necessary from a public health perspective but can have negative effects on economic activity. Using a newly constructed dataset of sectoral dependence on the use and sale of intermediate goods, this column investigates whether social distancing policies can have negative spillover effects on sectors that are not directly targeted due to input-output linkages. It finds that firms that depend on the sale of intermediate goods to sectors affected by social distancing measures are more affected by the crisis.

Michael Gapen, Jonathan Millar, Blerina Uruçi, Pooja Sriram, 14 August 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, US policymakers must consider containment measures while weighing adverse health outcomes against forgone economic activity. This column uses panel data to evaluate alternative strategies to keep COVID-19 in check. Viable options to keep new case counts on a downward trajectory without economically costly shutdowns include more testing (at least 1.8 million per day for the US, used in isolation) and either mask requirements or indoor-dining restrictions. The US is nowhere near the point where herd immunity alone can control infections.

Eudora Ribeiro, 12 August 2020

Fear and imposed isolation due to COVID-19 have raised alarms about the impact on mental health on a global scale. The severe anticipated global recession and substantial increases in unemployment and indebtedness are both risk factors for suicide. This column reviews past similar scenarios of pandemics and recessions and its links to suicide. The recipe for preventing suicide amidst the COVID-19 pandemic includes investment in mental healthcare, such as providing suicide prevention services, and active employment policies.

Caitlin Brown, Martin Ravallion, 10 August 2020

Income is linked to COVID-19 risk factors: poorer people are less likely to be able to socially distance or telework. However, higher-income areas tend to have more in-person interactions. This column disentangles the socioeconomic influences on COVID-19 behaviour and outcomes across the 3,000 counties of the US. Counties with higher overall income inequality tend to have higher infection rates. A higher population share of Black Americans and Hispanics is associated with higher infection rates. These effects do not fade over time from the first infection.

Alexander Ahammer, Martin Halla, Mario Lackner, 06 August 2020

Social distancing is important to slow the community spread of COVID-19. This column studies the banning of mass gatherings, a comparably low-cost intervention. Exploiting exogenous variation in top-flight basketball and ice hockey games in the US, which arise due to the leagues' predetermined schedules, and the suspension of the 2019-20 seasons, it estimates the impact of indoor mass gatherings on COVID-19 mortality in affected US counties. The findings suggest that one additional mass gathering increased the cumulative number of COVID-19 deaths in affected counties by 9%.

Olivier Marie, Judit Vall Castello, 28 July 2020

Many governments increased temporary sick-leave benefits in the wake of COVID-19, but the benefits are due to expire after a certain time. This column looks back at a 2012 policy change in Spain which radically altered the generosity of paid sick leave available to public-sector employees. Following the change, the number of sick leaves taken by public-sector workers dropped 29% but the likelihood of relapses increased, with most of it driven by infectious disease relapses. Policymakers need to manage changes in sick-leave generosity, especially in the face of persistent or recurring infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

Michèle Belot, Syngjoo Choi, Egon Tripodi, Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, Julian C. Jamison, Nicholas W. Papageorge, 24 July 2020

Almost all countries in the world have implemented drastic measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. This column documents the effects of the epidemic and containment measures using representative individual data on age and income from three Western and three Asian countries. Younger groups in all countries have been affected more, both economically and non-economically. Differences across income groups are less clear and less consistent across countries. The young are less compliant and supportive of the containment measures, no matter how hard they have been affected by them.

Dimitris Papanikolaou, Lawrence D.W. Schmidt, 23 July 2020

COVID-19 has massively disrupted the supply side of the world economy, shutting down entire industries. This column analyses how these disruptions affected different types of firms and workers by looking at how effectively different sectors can shift to remote work. While the major policy interventions in the US have treated all types of business as equivalent, industries which are not able to do their work remotely have been hit much harder than business that can. This cross-sectional dispersion shows up across a variety of measures, including changes in employment, revenue projections, likelihood of default, current liquidity, and stock returns. Going forward, aid that targets disrupted sectors may be a more cost-effective means to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19.

Victor Chernozhukov, Hiro Kasahara, Paul Schrimpf, 15 July 2020

Faced with COVID-19, people rationally and voluntarily respond to information on risks, making it difficult to distinguish the effect of containment policies from that of voluntary behavioural responses. This column examines the effect of mandatory mask policies on COVID-19 cases and deaths in the US. If the US had on 1 April 2020 universally mandated that employees of public-facing businesses use masks, there could have been nearly 40% fewer deaths by the start of June. Containment policies had a large impact on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, directly by reducing transmission rates and indirectly by constraining people’s behaviour, and account for roughly half the observed change in the growth rates of cases and deaths.

Christos Makridis, Jonathan Rothwell, 10 July 2020

There is significant dispersion in beliefs about the pandemic and its economic implications. This column uses new high-frequency and nationally representative data to document the overwhelming importance of political affiliation as a determinant of these beliefs and the adverse effects of partisanship on local economic activity. In the US, Republicans are significantly less worried about COVID-19 and less likely to expect a long-term disruption due to the virus. These results suggest that the macroeconomic effects of the pandemic on consumption may depend on behavioural factors, like political affiliation.

Paolo Falco, Sarah Zaccagni, 09 July 2020

Reminders to encourage social distancing have been used widely by the authorities around the world during the crisis. Based on a randomised controlled trial conducted in Denmark, this column shows what types of messages are most (and least) effective in convincing people to stay home. People’s good intentions often do not translate into the desired actions. Reminders significantly increase compliance with social distancing among people in poor health who face the greatest risks.

Jean-Pierre Dube, Andrey Simonov, Szymon Sacher, Shirsho Biswas, 06 July 2020

US televised news networks offer strikingly different coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, the exposure risks, and the benefits of social distancing measures recommended by health experts. This column devises an empirical strategy to test for a causal effect of news viewership on compliance with social distancing. It finds a large effect of local Fox News viewership on local compliance, with a persuasion rate of up to 26%. These findings reinforce concerns about the media’s role in sowing distrust in scientific evidence in the determination of public policies.  

Stefan Pollinger, 05 July 2020

Despite diverse and considerable efforts, the pandemic is keeping the world in a state of apprehension and discord. This column argues that eradicating Covid-19 is possible through a combination of case detection and social distancing, which would allow the pandemic to be eliminated at low additional economic and health costs. A simple function of observables, the optimal policy is easily implementable, but it raises important privacy concerns. The time to have a serious political discussion about these concerns has come.

Caitlin Brown, Martin Ravallion, Dominique van de Walle, 27 June 2020

Recommendations to limit the spread of COVID-19 call for social distancing, washing, and access to information and treatment. However, people need to be in household environments that allow them to follow those recommendations. This column examines the relationship between poverty and the adequacy of the home environment. There is a strong wealth effect both within and between countries, where the poor are less likely to have the kind of dwellings and infrastructure to follow WHO recommendations. Complementary policies to address such inadequate home environments are needed.

Toshihiro Okubo, 25 June 2020

The Japanese government’s policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic was to ask people to refrain from leaving their homes and to encourage teleworking. This column examines the effect of COVID-19 on the uptake of teleworking in a country that has the lowest use among developed countries. Overall, teleworking increased about 4 percentage points from January to March 2020, driven by industries and occupations related to information and located in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Teleworking is not suited to face-to-face services and manual labour, which saw substantial declines in worker incomes.

Timo Mitze, Reinhold Kosfeld, Johannes Rode, Klaus Wälde, 22 June 2020

Confronted with a novel, aggressive coronavirus, Germany implemented measures to reduce its spread since March 2020. Requiring people to wear face masks in public places has, however, been a subject of controversy and isolating the effect of mask-wearing on the spread of COVID-19 is not simple. This column looks at the town of Jena and other German regions that introduced face masks before the rest of the country to see whether the requirement makes a difference in the number of new COVID-19 cases. Requiring face masks to be worn decreases the growth rate of COVID-19 cases by about 40% in Germany.

Alina Kristin Bartscher, Sebastian Seitz, Sebastian Siegloch, Michaela Slotwinski, Nils Wehrhöfer, 18 June 2020

In the absence of viable medical responses to combat the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, policymakers have appealed to the social responsibility of their citizens to comply with social distancing rules. This column explores how regional differences in social capital can affect the spread of Covid-19, focusing on seven European countries. The results suggest that areas with high social capital registered between 12% and 32% fewer Covid-19 cases from mid-March until mid-May. A case study of Italy validates the independent role of social capital, showing a consistent reduction in excess deaths and documenting a reduction in mobility prior to the lockdown as a mediating channel.

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