From Anti-China Rhetoric to Anti-Asian Behavior: The Social and Economic Cost of 'Kung-Flu'
Posted: 15 Jun 2022
Date Written: May 24, 2022
Discrimination and violence directed towards Asian Americans in the United States increased dramatically following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this paper, we examine consumer discrimination against businesses associated with Asian Americans. Leveraging the pandemic as an exogenous shock to Americans' level of anti-Chinese sentiment, we utilize a series of analyses combining survey data, online search trends, and consumer cellular device mobility data to measure the effects of this shock on consumer discrimination against Chinese and other Asian restaurants. Survey and search data show that attitudes towards Chinese and non-Chinese Asian food declined precipitously during the pandemic, and this change in attitudes was driven by a mix of assigning blame for COVID-19 spread to Asians and experiencing fear of Chinese food. Analysis of cellular phone mobility data shows Asian restaurants suffered a 18.4% drop (95% C.I.: -15.9% to -20.8%) in traffic relative to non-Asian restaurants in the pandemic period. We explore heterogeneity in these effects by political affiliation and find strong correlation between support of former President Trump and avoidance of Asian restaurants. The results are consistent with the role of out-group homogeneity and ethnic misidentification as drivers of spillover effects of anti-Chinese sentiment on non-Chinese Asian restaurant traffic. This work documents some of the unique economic challenges faced by Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic and has substantial implications for the study of consumer discrimination and stigmatization in public health communications.
Keywords: consumer discrimination; small business entrepreneurship, COVID-19 pandemic, racism and stigmatization, anti-Asian hate
JEL Classification: H12, J71, J78, I18
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