Social Distancing, Internet Access and Inequality

27 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2020

See all articles by Lesley Chiou

Lesley Chiou

Occidental College - Department of Economics

Catherine E. Tucker

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Management Science (MS)

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Date Written: April 2020

Abstract

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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Suggested Citation

Chiou, Lesley and Tucker, Catherine E., Social Distancing, Internet Access and Inequality (April 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w26982. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3574446

Lesley Chiou (Contact Author)

Occidental College - Department of Economics ( email )

1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, CA 90041
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.faculty.oxy.edu/lchiou

Catherine E. Tucker

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Management Science (MS) ( email )

100 Main St
E62-536
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

HOME PAGE: http://cetucker.scripts.mit.edu

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