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Age-Based Policy in the Context of the Covid-19 Pandemic: How Common are MultiGenerational Households?


  • Van Rens, Thijs

    (University of Warwick, CAGE and IZA)

  • Oswald, Andrew J.

    (University of Warwick, CAGE and IZA)


Are general lockdowns an appropriate response to the threat of Covid-19? Recent cost-benefit studies do not favour the case for them. Instead, since the virus practises a form of age discrimination (approximately 90% of coronavirus deaths are older than 65), some analysts have suggested an alternative. It is that younger citizens -- the generation worst affected by lockdowns and the one that will predominantly pay the eventual tax bill for furlough -- should be allowed to return to work to sustain the economy. Lockdown advocates argue that this would be dangerous, because older people would get infected by young workers living in the same home. We explore that claim. We find that 96% of UK workers under age 40 do not live with anyone over 65. In fact, 92% of all UK workers live in a household without anyone over 65 years old – and that holds true for white and BAME workers. Releasing young workers would thus expose only a small fraction of older citizens to intra-household transmission, although we recognize that the absolute number of people infected might eventually become considerable, and some vulnerable citizens could potentially be at risk if they live in large households. In general this paper’s results illustrate the potential value of fine-tuning the lifting of restrictions. Our findings buttress the cost-benefit case for age-based policies.

Suggested Citation

  • Van Rens, Thijs & Oswald, Andrew J., 2020. "Age-Based Policy in the Context of the Covid-19 Pandemic: How Common are MultiGenerational Households?," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 522, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  • Handle: RePEc:cge:wacage:522

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Daron Acemoglu & Victor Chernozhukov & Iván Werning & Michael D. Whinston, 2021. "Optimal Targeted Lockdowns in a Multigroup SIR Model," American Economic Review: Insights, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 487-502, December.
    2. Oswald, Andrew J. & Powdthavee, Nattavudh, 2020. "The Case for Releasing the Young from Lockdown: A Briefing Paper for Policymakers," IZA Discussion Papers 13113, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. James Banks & Xiaowei Xu, 2020. "The Mental Health Effects of the First Two Months of Lockdown during the COVID‐19 Pandemic in the UK," Fiscal Studies, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 41(3), pages 685-708, September.
    4. Tsuchiya, Aki & Dolan, Paul & Shaw, Rebecca, 2003. "Measuring people's preferences regarding ageism in health: some methodological issues and some fresh evidence," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 57(4), pages 687-696, August.
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    More about this item


    coronavirus; labor market; recession; COVID-19. JEL Classification: I18;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health

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    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


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