Face Mask Use and Physical Distancing before and after Mandatory Masking: No Evidence on Risk Compensation in Public Waiting Lines

36 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2021

See all articles by Gyula Seres

Gyula Seres

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

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

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 2021

Abstract

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of mandatory face mask usage triggered a heated debate. A major point of debate is whether community use of masks creates a false sense of security that would diminish physical distancing, counteracting any potential direct benefit from masking. We conducted a randomized field experiment in Berlin, Germany, to investigate how masks affect distancing and whether the mask effect interacts with the introduction of an indoor mask mandate. Joining waiting lines in front of stores, we measured distances kept from the experimenter in two treatment conditions { the experimenter wore a mask in one and no face covering in the other { in two time spans { before and after mask use becoming mandatory in stores. We find no evidence that mandatory masking has a negative effect on distance kept toward a masked person. To the contrary, masks significantly increase distancing and the effect does not differ between the two periods. However, we show that after the mandate, distances are shorter in locations where more non-essential stores, which were closed before the mandate, had reopened. We argue that the relaxations in general restrictions that coincided with the mask mandate led individuals to reduce other precautions, like keeping a safe distance.

Note: Funding: None to declare.

Declaration of Interests: None to declare.

Ethics Approval Statement: This study was approved by the School of Business and Economics at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin,

Keywords: COVID-19, face masks, social distancing, risk compensation, field experiment, health policy

JEL Classification: I12,D9,C93

Suggested Citation

Seres, Gyula and 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: No Evidence on Risk Compensation in Public Waiting Lines (September 2021). DIW Berlin Discussion Paper No. 1971, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3924790 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3924790

Gyula Seres

Tilburg Law and Economics Center (TILEC) ( email )

Warandelaan 2
Tilburg, 5000 LE
Netherlands

Humboldt University of Berlin ( email )

Unter den Linden 6
Berlin, AK Berlin 10099
Germany

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 (Contact Author)

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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