Ties that Bind (and Social Distance): How Social Capital Helps Communities Weather the COVID-19 Pandemic
26 Pages Posted: 4 May 2020 Last revised: 15 May 2020
Date Written: May 4, 2020
Experiences with recent outbreaks, such as SARS in 2003 and Ebola in 2014, suggest that they are handled substantially better in places with better governance. This paper investigates the role of social capital as a potential mediating factor for the spread of the COVID-19 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 20% decline in the number of infections, as well as a 0.28 percentage point decline in the growth rate of the virus (nearly 20% of the median growth rate). Our results are robust to many demographic characteristics, controls, and alternative measures of social capital.
Keywords: COVID-19, public health, social capital, social distancing, trust
JEL Classification: E71, I12, I18, I31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation