Social Distancing, Internet Access and Inequality
27 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2020 Last revised: 24 Mar 2021
Date Written: April 2020
This paper measures the role of the diffusion of high-speed Internet on an individual's ability to self-isolate during a global pandemic. We use data that tracks 20 million mobile devices and their movements across physical locations, and whether the mobile devices leave their homes that day. We show that while income is correlated with differences in the ability to stay at home, the unequal diffusion of high-speed Internet in homes across regions drives much of this observed income effect. We examine compliance with state-level directives to avoid leaving your home. Devices in regions with either high-income or high-speed Internet are less likely to leave their homes after such a directive. However, the combination of having both high income and high-speed Internet appears to be the biggest driver of propensity to stay at home. Our results suggest that the digital divide---or the fact that income and home Internet access are correlated---appears to explain much inequality we observe in people's ability to self-isolate.
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