Free DP Download 04 June 2020 - DIVIDED WE STAY HOME: Evidence from Russia and the United States of stricter voluntary social distancing where there is greater ethnic diversity

Thursday, June 4, 2020

DIVIDED WE STAY HOME: Evidence from Russia and the United States of stricter voluntary social distancing where there is greater ethnic diversity
Georgy Egorov, Ruben Enikolopov, Alexey Makarin, Maria Petrova      
CEPR DP No. 14810 | May 2020

Voluntary social distancing plays a vital role in containing the spread of the disease during a pandemic. Following the reports of the first local Covid-19 cases, people in more ethnically diverse places were more likely to restrict their mobility. Sick people self-isolated for altruistic reasons but did so less in more diverse societies due to out-group biases. At the same time, the decision of healthy individuals to self-isolate is determined by private benefits, so they were more likely to self-isolate in more diverse societies, where sick people are less likely to stay at home.

These are among the conclusions of a new study by Maria Petrova and colleagues, which highlights the role of ethnic diversity in voluntary adherence to socially beneficial norms, such as self-isolation and social distancing during a pandemic. Analysing evidence from Russia and the United States, the study finds that:  

  • For healthy people, observing social distancing has private benefits, too. If sick individuals are more likely to stay home, healthy ones have fewer incentives to do so, especially if asymptomatic transmission is perceived to be unlikely. 
  • This interplay may lead to a stricter observance of social distancing in more diverse and less altruistic societies. 
  • The reduction in mobility following the first local case of Covid-19 was stronger in Russian cities with higher ethnic fractionalisation and cities with higher levels of xenophobia. 
  • Mobility reduction in the United States was also higher in counties with higher ethnic fractionalisation. 

These findings highlight the importance of strategic incentives of different population groups for the effectiveness of public policy.


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