Fatalism, Beliefs, and Behaviors During the Covid-19 Pandemic

56 Pages Posted: 26 May 2020 Last revised: 5 Jun 2020

See all articles by Jesper Akesson

Jesper Akesson

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Sam Ashworth-Hayes

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Robert W. Hahn

University of Oxford, Smith School; Georgetown University

Robert Metcalfe

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics

Itzhak Rasooly

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: May 2020

Abstract

Little is known about individual beliefs concerning the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Still less is known about how these beliefs influence the spread of the virus by determining social distancing behaviors. To shed light on these questions, we conduct an online experiment (n = 3,610) with participants in the US and UK. Participants are randomly allocated to a control group, or one of two treatment groups. The treatment groups are shown upper- or lower-bound expert estimates of the infectiousness of the virus. We present three main empirical findings. First, individuals dramatically overestimate the infectiousness of COVID-19 relative to expert opinion. Second, providing people with expert information partially corrects their beliefs about the virus. Third, the more infectious people believe that COVID-19 is, the less willing they are to take social distancing measures, a finding we dub the “fatalism effect”. We estimate that small changes in people's beliefs can generate billions of dollars in mortality benefits. Finally, we develop a theoretical model that can explain the fatalism effect.

Suggested Citation

Akesson, Jesper and Ashworth-Hayes, Sam and Hahn, Robert W. and Metcalfe, Robert and Rasooly, Itzhak, Fatalism, Beliefs, and Behaviors During the Covid-19 Pandemic (May 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w27245, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3609698

Jesper Akesson (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Sam Ashworth-Hayes

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Robert W. Hahn

University of Oxford, Smith School ( email )

Oxford
United Kingdom

Georgetown University

Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy
Washington, DC 20057
United States

Robert Metcalfe

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Itzhak Rasooly

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
21
Abstract Views
78
PlumX Metrics