Long Social Distancing
More than ten percent of Americans with recent work experience say they will continue social distancing after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, and another 45 percent will do so in limited ways. We uncover this Long Social Distancing phenomenon in our monthly Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes. It is more common among older persons, women, the less educated, those who earn less, and in occupations and industries that require many face-to-face encounters. People who intend to continue social distancing have lower labor force participation – unconditionally, and conditional on demographics and other controls. Regression models that relate outcomes to intentions imply that Long Social Distancing reduced participation by 2.5 percentage points in the first half of 2022. Separate self-assessed causal effects imply a reduction of 2.0 percentage points. The impact on the earnings-weighted participation rate is smaller at about 1.4 percentage points. This drag on participation reduces potential output by nearly one percent and shrinks the college wage premium. Economic reasoning and evidence suggest that Long Social Distancing and its effects will persist for many months or years.
We thank the Templeton World Charity Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, Stanford University, Chicago Booth School of Business, Asociacion Mexicana de Cultura A.C., Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, Toulouse Network for Information Technology and the MIT Mobility Initiative for funding to conduct the Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes. Katharine Abraham, Marianne Bertrand, Mark Bils, Robert Hall, Lisa Kahn, and seminar and conference participants at ITAM, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office Panel of Economic Advisers, and the NBER Conference on Wage Dynamics in the 21st Century provided many helpful comments on earlier drafts. A special thanks to Abraham and Bertrand, discussants at the CBO and NBER events, respectively. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- Many Americans plan to continue social distancing even after the COVID pandemic ends, according to data from the Survey of Working...