Does Social Distancing Matter?

20 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2020 Last revised: 31 Mar 2020

See all articles by Michael Greenstone

Michael Greenstone

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; Becker Friedman Institute for Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Vishan Nigam

University of Chicago

Date Written: March 30, 2020

Abstract

This paper develops and implements a method to monetize the impact of moderate social distancing on deaths from COVID-19. Using the Ferguson et al. (2020) simulation model of COVID-19’s spread and mortality impacts in the United States, we project that 3-4 months of moderate distancing beginning in late March 2020 would save 1.7 million lives by October 1. Of the lives saved, 630,000 are due to avoided overwhelming of hospital intensive care units. Using the projected age-specific reductions in death and age-varying estimates of the United States Government’s value of a statistical life, we find that the mortality benefits of social distancing are about $8 trillion or $60,000 per US household. Roughly 90% of the monetized benefits are projected to accrue to people age 50 or older. Overall, the analysis suggests that social distancing initiatives and policies in response to the COVID-19 epidemic have substantial economic benefits.

Suggested Citation

Greenstone, Michael and Nigam, Vishan, Does Social Distancing Matter? (March 30, 2020). University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper No. 2020-26, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3561244 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3561244

Michael Greenstone (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Department of Economics

1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Becker Friedman Institute for Economics ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Vishan Nigam

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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