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COVID-19 and Subjective Well-Being: Separating the Effects of Lockdowns from the Pandemic

26 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2020

See all articles by Roberto Foa

Roberto Foa

University of Cambridge

Sam Gilbert


Mark Otto Fabian




Background: Lockdowns reduce the spread of COVID-19 but there are concerns about their effect upon mental health. We assess this effect by examining subjective well-being during lockdown, carefully distinguishing the effect of lockdowns from that of the pandemic using weekly data.

Methods: We use data from YouGov’s Great Britain Mood Tracker Poll and reports from Google Trends. The YouGov data comprises a weekly, repeated cross sectional survey of 1,890-2,071 respondents in Great Britain, representative by age, gender, social class, and education. It employs the Profile of Mood State (POMS) battery and Cantril’s ladder of life satisfaction scale to assess respondent’s subjective well-being. Google Trends enables the relative popularity of search terms to be analysed. We use the YouGov data to validate a ‘negative affect search index’ that we employ to assess whether other English-speaking countries experienced similar trends to Great Britain. Time series models were estimated to gauge the effect of the pandemic and lockdowns on subjective well-being.

Findings: Our modelling suggests that a one-month period in lockdown reduces negative affect by around -9% relative to a pre-pandemic baseline, rising to -17% when the sample space is restricted to the period following lockdown onset. The results support the hypothesis that country-specific pandemic severity, not lockdown, was the major contributor to increases in negative affect observed in other studies of COVID-19 and mental health.  

Interpretation: Lockdowns in response to pandemic outbreaks improve subjective well-being overall.

Funding Statement: No funding was provided for the production of this research.

Declaration of Interests: The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest(s).

Keywords: Mental health; COVID-19; Coronavirus; Subjective Well-Being; Lockdowns

Suggested Citation

Foa, Roberto and Gilbert, Sam and Fabian, Mark Otto, COVID-19 and Subjective Well-Being: Separating the Effects of Lockdowns from the Pandemic (8/12/2020). Available at SSRN: or

Roberto Foa (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge ( email )

Trinity Ln
Cambridge, CB2 1TN
United Kingdom

Sam Gilbert


Mark Otto Fabian


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