Social Distancing During a Pandemic: The Role of Friends

76 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2020

See all articles by Michael Bailey

Michael Bailey

Facebook

Drew Johnston

Harvard University

Martin Koenen

Harvard University

Theresa Kuchler

New York University (NYU)

Dominic Russel

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Johannes Stroebel

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: 2020

Abstract

We explore how social network exposure to COVID-19 cases shapes individuals’ social distancing behavior during the early months of the ongoing pandemic. We work with de-identified data from Facebook to show that U.S. users whose friends live in areas with worse coronavirus outbreaks reduce their mobility more than otherwise similar users whose friends live in areas with smaller outbreaks. The effects are quantitatively large: a one standard deviation increase in friendexposure to COVID-19 cases early in the pandemic results in a 1.2 percentage point increase in the probability that an individual stays home on a given day. As the pandemic progresses, changes in friend-exposure drive changes in social distancing behavior. Given the evolving nature and geography of the pandemic—and hence friend-exposure — these results rule out many alternative explanations for the observed relationships. We also analyze data on public posts and membership in groups advocating to “reopen” the economy to show that our findings can be explained by friend-exposure raising awareness about the risks of the disease and inducing individuals to participate in mitigating public health behavior.

JEL Classification: I000, D830, D850, H000

Suggested Citation

Bailey, Michael and Johnston, Drew and Koenen, Martin and Kuchler, Theresa and Russel, Dominic and Stroebel, Johannes, Social Distancing During a Pandemic: The Role of Friends (2020). CESifo Working Paper No. 8771, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3751862 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3751862

Michael Bailey (Contact Author)

Facebook ( email )

1601 S. California Ave.
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Drew Johnston

Harvard University ( email )

Martin Koenen

Harvard University ( email )

Theresa Kuchler

New York University (NYU) ( email )

Bobst Library, E-resource Acquisitions
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New York, NY 10003-711
United States

Dominic Russel

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Johannes Stroebel

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business ( email )

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Suite 9-160
New York, NY NY 10012
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

London
United Kingdom

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