The COVID-19 Outbreak Decreases Residents’ Self-Reported Happiness
32 Pages Posted: 4 Sep 2020
Date Written: June 19, 2020
Since erupting at the end of 2019, the COVID-19 outbreak has been the world’s most severe challenge since World War II. This challenge is reflected not only in the observable economic depression, but also in emotional damage (loss of well-being) which has been widely ignored. This paper estimates the effect of the epidemic on the well-being of Chinese residents by capturing the emotions conveyed via massive social media, combined with city-level epidemic data. We also use station-level weather data and spatial geographic distance from the epicenter (Wuhan) to construct instrumental variables to better overcome the endogeneity problems of the estimations. We confirm the significant negative impact of the outbreak on life satisfaction, with an extra 1% of cumulative death cases associated with a 0.54% decrease in expressed happiness. Meanwhile, we find that well-being drops the most in regions with high-level risk of COVID-19, especially for females. Further, happiness in regions with higher or lower income levels are more vulnerable to the effects of the epidemic, while intermediate-level income regions are relatively insensitive. We also found that public announcements regarding the WHO pandemic and city-unlocking significantly affect residents’ sentiment. The interaction between the outbreak and real-time expressed happiness provides an important opportunity for reflection on the current governance policies of epidemic containment.
Keywords: Novel coronavirus; Self-reported happiness; Social media; China
JEL Classification: JEL: I18,JEL: D03,JEL: D60
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