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Pandemic Risk Perceptions and Protective Behavior

Behavioral responses to the risk of being infected with COVID-19 as a result of social contact are key determinants of both pandemic dynamics and associated economic outcomes. Government shut-downs prevented some types of interaction during parts of 2020 and 2021, but voluntary individual decisions to avoid shopping, public transit, and other usual functions also played an important part. In a new study (28741), NBER affiliates Kate Bundorf of Duke University and Grant Miller and Maria Polyakova of Stanford University, along with Jill Dematteis and Jonathan Wivagg of Westat and Jialu Streeter of Stanford University, survey individuals to learn their beliefs about the risk of contracting COVID-19 while engaged in various activities and how they responded to these perceived risks. Bundorf describes their findings in the video below. An archive of NBER videos on pandemic-related research may be found here.


Three NBER working papers distributed this week report on economic, health, and related consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, or on the impact of public policies that respond to it. Two focus on innovation policy. One studies the incentives for scientists to engage in high-risk research, such as the work on mRNA that ultimately led to several COVID-19 vaccines (28905), while another compares the US innovation policy response to the pandemic with past periods of rapid innovation, notably the years during and after World War II (28915). The third presents new data on the rate and composition of entrepreneurial activity in the US during the pandemic (28912).

Over 420 NBER working papers have addressed various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. These papers are open access and have been collected for easy reference. Like all NBER papers, they are circulated for discussion and comment, and have not been peer-reviewed. View them in reverse chronological order or by topic area.

Crystal Yang Named Codirector of Economics of Crime Working Group

crystal_yangCrystal Yang, a professor of law at the Harvard Law School and a research associate in the NBER Law and Economics Program, is a new codirector of the Economics of Crime Working Group. In this role she joins Philip J. Cook of Duke University and Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago, who along with Justin McCrary of Columbia University launched the working group in 2007.

Yang, who became an NBER affiliate in 2017, has studied a range of issues related to the criminal justice system, including bail, inter-judge sentencing disparities, racial bias, and deportation. Her research has been cited in US Supreme Court and federal district court cases.

Yang received four degrees – an AB and PhD in economics, an MA in statistics, and a JD – from Harvard University. She took leave from her teaching post in 2014-15 to serve as Special Assistant US Attorney in the US Attorney’s Office for Massachusetts.

From the NBER Digest

...a free monthly publication of non-technical summaries of research on topics of broad public interest

Peak annual earnings relative to early-career earnings more than doubled between 1960 and 2017, largely due to an economy-wide shift toward jobs that place workers in decision-making roles. As automation has improved, machines increasingly have substituted for workers in jobs involving routine tasks predictable enough to be scripted ahead of time. The tasks required of those in the remaining jobs are increasingly open-ended, and doing good work requires the...

From the NBER Reporter

...a free quarterly featuring affiliates writing about their research, program updates, and NBER news

Author(s): Tatyana Deryugina
Direct economic damage from extreme weather events has been growing faster than GDP for decades, and projections indicate that this trend will continue. The impacts of natural disasters clearly extend beyond the physical damage they cause. They can have both short- and long-term effects on income, health, family formation, and many other aspects of victims’ lives. In the aggregate, natural disasters could affect fiscal outcomes and the functioning of important services such...

From the Bulletin on Health

...a free summary of recent NBER Working Papers on health topics, distributed three times a year

Black Americans experience 20 percent higher mortality rates, after adjusting for age, than White Americans. One potential contributor to this disparity is the tendency for Black and White patients to receive treatment from health care providers with differing levels of performance. Among heart attack patients in the late 1990s, for example, Black patients were treated in hospitals where the typical patient had a 1 percentage point lower survival rate after 30 days...

From the Bulletin on Retirement and Disability

...a free quarterly summarizing research in the NBER's Retirement and Disability Research Center

Individuals with a disabling health condition often experience lower income and higher medical expenses in the wake of disability onset, leading to reduced consumption and well-being. If these individuals are cash-constrained, the value of benefits may be particularly high at the beginning of benefit receipt. In this case, receiving a lump sum could improve beneficiary outcomes more than receiving smaller monthly payments. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)...

Featured Working Papers

A surcharge to royalties for fossil fuel production on federal lands in the United States would lead to meaningful declines in global emissions, and could substantially increase royalty receipts, Brian C. Prest and James H. Stock estimate.

Entrepreneurs and government workers in China have a higher likelihood than others of having children who own incorporated businesses, according to research by Ruixue Jia, Xiaohuan Lan, and Gerard Padró I Miquel. Where government involvement is higher, business ownership by children of government workers is higher.

The private value of public science is low unless a firm is the first to use the science, partly because a first-use firm can secure broader patents relative to later users, according to research by Ashish Arora, Sharon Belenzon, and Bernardo Dionisi.

Analyzing data from random IRS audits and other sources, John Guyton, Patrick Langetieg, Daniel Reck, Max Risch, and Gabriel Zucman estimate that unreported income as a fraction of true income is more than 20 percent in the top 1 percent of the income distribution, compared with 7 percent in the lower half of that distribution.

Data on 911 calls and on visits to bars and liquor stores in Detroit show an increase in the strength of the relationship between visits to alcohol outlets and domestic violence starting in March 2020, Aaron Chalfin, Shooshan Danagoulian, and Monica Deza report.

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In the News

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Books & Chapters

Through a partnership with the University of Chicago Press, the NBER publishes the proceedings of four annual conferences as well as other research studies associated with NBER-based research projects.

Research Spotlights

NBER researchers discuss their work on subjects of wide interest to economists, policymakers, and the general public. Recordings of more-detailed presentations, keynote addresses, and panel discussions at NBER conferences are available on the Lectures page.
Pandemic Risk Perceptions and Protective Behavior
Research Spotlight
Behavioral responses to the risk of being infected with COVID-19 as a result of social contact are key determinants of...
Bloom WFH survey 052621 v3-01.jpg
Research Spotlight
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more than one third of all employees shifted from in-person to remote work. The share is...
Promoting Vaccine Take-up among Minority Populations
Research Spotlight
Widespread vaccination is a critical tool in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Achieving this goal requires not just...
The Economics of Vaccine Development and Distribution
Research Spotlight
Vaccines that protect against SARS-CoV-2 are a critical element in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a...
Urban Rent Gradients Have Flattened During the Pandemic Graph
Research Spotlight
Rents and housing prices are usually highest at the center of dense urban areas, reflecting the value that residents...
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