Face Mask Use and Physical Distancing Before and After Mandatory Masking: Evidence From Public Waiting Lines

31 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2020 Last revised: 29 Oct 2020

See all articles by Gyula Seres

Gyula Seres

Humboldt University of Berlin; Tilburg Law and Economics Center (TILEC)

Anna Helen Balleyer

University of Groningen

Nicola Cerutti

Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC)

Jana Friedrichsen

Humboldt University of Berlin - Faculty of Economics; WZB Berlin Social Science Center; German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin)

Müge Süer

Humboldt University of Berlin - Faculty of Economics

Date Written: July 9, 2020

Abstract

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of mandatory face mask usage was accompanied by heated debate. It is argued that community use of masks creates a false sense of security that could decrease physical distancing, thus making matters worse. We conducted a randomized field experiment in Berlin, Germany, to investigate whether masks lead to decreases in distancing and whether this mask effect interacts with the introduction of a mask mandate. Joining lines in front of stores, we measured the distance kept from the experimenter in two treatment conditions - the experimenter wore a mask in one and no face covering in the other - both before and after the introduction of mandatory mask use in stores. We find no evidence that mandatory masking has a negative effect on distance keeping. To the contrary, in our study masks significantly increase distancing and the effect does not differ between the two periods. However, we show that distances in the data collected after the mandate are shorter in locations where more stores, closed before the mandate, were allowed to open. These findings suggest that individuals take relaxations in the restrictions - that accompanied a general decrease in the severity of the pandemic - as an indication that they can also reduce other precautions, like keeping a safe distance.

Keywords: COVID-19; Face Masks; Social Distancing; Risk Compensation; Field Experiment; Health Policy

JEL Classification: I12, D9, C93

Suggested Citation

Seres, Gyula and Balleyer, Anna Helen and Cerutti, Nicola and Friedrichsen, Jana and Süer, Müge, Face Mask Use and Physical Distancing Before and After Mandatory Masking: Evidence From Public Waiting Lines (July 9, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3641367 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3641367

Gyula Seres (Contact Author)

Humboldt University of Berlin ( email )

Unter den Linden 6
Berlin, AK Berlin 10099
Germany

Tilburg Law and Economics Center (TILEC) ( email )

Warandelaan 2
Tilburg, 5000 LE
Netherlands

Anna Helen Balleyer

University of Groningen ( email )

P.O. Box 800
9700 AH Groningen, Groningen 9700 AV
Netherlands

Nicola Cerutti

Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) ( email )

Torgauer Straße 12-15
Berlin, 10829
Germany

Jana Friedrichsen

Humboldt University of Berlin - Faculty of Economics ( email )

Spandauer Strasse 1
Berlin
Germany

WZB Berlin Social Science Center ( email )

Reichpietschufer 50
D-10785 Berlin, 10785
Germany

German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) ( email )

Mohrenstraße 58
Berlin, 10117
Germany

Müge Süer

Humboldt University of Berlin - Faculty of Economics ( email )

Spandauer Strasse 1
Berlin
Germany

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