Ties that Bind (and Social Distance): How Social Capital Helps Communities Weather the COVID-19 Pandemic

35 Pages Posted: 4 May 2020 Last revised: 13 Aug 2020

See all articles by Christos Makridis

Christos Makridis

Stanford University; Columbia University - Columbia Business School; Arizona State University (ASU); Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Cary Wu

York University

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 4, 2020


Why have the effects of COVID-19 been so unevenly geographically distributed in the United States? This paper investigates the role of social capital as a mediating factor for the spread of the virus. On one hand, higher social capital could imply greater in-person interaction and risk of contagion. On the other hand, because social capital is associated with greater trust and relationships within a community, it could endow individuals with a greater concern for others, thereby leading to more hygienic practices and social distancing. Using data for over 2,700 US counties, we investigate how social capital explains the level and growth rate of infections. We find that moving a county from the 25th to the 75th percentile of the distribution of social capital would lead to a 18% and 5.7% decline in the cumulative number of infections and deaths, as well as suggestive evidence of a lower spread of the virus. Our results are robust to many demographic characteristics, controls, and alternative measures of social capital. Finally, we discuss the channels through which social capital makes communities better able to respond to outbreaks.

Keywords: coronavirus, COVID-19, public health, social capital, social distancing, trust

JEL Classification: E71, I12, I18, I31

Suggested Citation

Makridis, Christos and Wu, Cary, Ties that Bind (and Social Distance): How Social Capital Helps Communities Weather the COVID-19 Pandemic (May 4, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3592180 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3592180

Christos Makridis (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Columbia University - Columbia Business School ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Arizona State University (ASU) ( email )

Farmer Building 440G PO Box 872011
Tempe, AZ 85287
United States

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) ( email )

810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420
United States

Cary Wu

York University ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

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