Culture, Policy Obedience, and Virus Spread: Evidence from Anti-COVID Efforts in the United States
36 Pages Posted: 17 May 2022
Date Written: April 30, 2022
The government’s anti-COVID efforts in the United States have been seen to reduce unnecessary social mobility, curb the spread of the virus, and lower COVID-related mortality; however, these impacts vary by state. In this paper, we aim to explain the heterogeneity in policy efficacy from an individualistic culture perspective, emphasizing rich social distancing and virus spread measures. We construct an individualistic culture measure based on the immigrants in each county in 1980 and the cultural context in the country of origin. By exploiting the variations in the cultural context across counties and the variations in the containment policies across states and over time, we first confirm that these policies lead to increased levels of social distancing and slow the spread of the virus. We also find that the individualistic culture weakens the policy effect on promoting social distancing, as reflected by fewer residents staying at home, more miles traveled per person, and more cross-border trips. Consequently, in a more individualistic cultural context, anti-COVID policies are less effective in curbing virus spread, as reflected by a higher virus reproduction rate and a higher polymerase chain reaction-positive rate. These results are reaffirmed when we alternatively measure the individualistic culture legacy from two specific historical immigrant influxes – the Westward Movement that occurred between 1790 and 1890 and the first major wave of Asian immigration that occurred between 1850 and 1917. Our calculations indicate that if all counties implement the policy at the average level, when they shift from the least individualistic culture to the most individualistic culture, approximately 19,074 more deaths will occur nationwide, and the value of the statistical lives of these deaths is approximately 202.76 billion in 2019 U.S. dollars.
Funding Information: None.
Conflict of Interests: None.
Keywords: anti-COVID campaign; social distancing; virus spread; individualism; immigration
JEL Classification: I18; H12; Z18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation