NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Social Distancing and Social Capital: Why U.S. Counties Respond Differently to COVID-19

Wenzhi Ding, Ross Levine, Chen Lin, Wensi Xie

NBER Working Paper No. 27393
Issued in June 2020
NBER Program(s):Health Economics, Public Economics

Since social distancing is the primary strategy for slowing the spread of many diseases, understanding why U.S. counties respond differently to COVID-19 is critical for designing effective public policies. Using daily data from about 45 million mobile phones to measure social distancing we examine how counties responded to both local COVID-19 cases and statewide shelter-in-place orders. We find that social distancing increases more in response to cases and official orders in counties where individuals historically (1) engaged less in community activities and (2) demonstrated greater willingness to incur individual costs to contribute to social objectives. Our work highlights the importance of these two features of social capital—community engagement and individual commitment to societal institutions—in formulating public health policies.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w27393

 
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