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Social Distancing, Internet Access and Inequality

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  • Lesley Chiou
  • Catherine Tucker

Abstract

This paper measures the role of the diffusion of high-speed Internet on an individual's ability to self-isolate during a global pandemic. We use data that tracks 20 million mobile devices and their movements across physical locations, and whether the mobile devices leave their homes that day. We show that while income is correlated with differences in the ability to stay at home, the unequal diffusion of high-speed Internet in homes across regions drives much of this observed income effect. We examine compliance with state-level directives to avoid leaving your home. Devices in regions with either high-income or high-speed Internet are less likely to leave their homes after such a directive. However, the combination of having both high income and high-speed Internet appears to be the biggest driver of propensity to stay at home. Our results suggest that the digital divide---or the fact that income and home Internet access are correlated---appears to explain much inequality we observe in people's ability to self-isolate.

Suggested Citation

  • Lesley Chiou & Catherine Tucker, 2020. "Social Distancing, Internet Access and Inequality," NBER Working Papers 26982, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:26982
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. James H. Stock, 2020. "Data Gaps and the Policy Response to the Novel Coronavirus," NBER Working Papers 26902, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. David W. Berger & Kyle F. Herkenhoff & Simon Mongey, 2020. "An SEIR Infectious Disease Model with Testing and Conditional Quarantine," NBER Working Papers 26901, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. David Berger & Kyle Herkenhoff & Simon Mongey, 2020. "An SEIR Infectious Disease Model with Testing and Conditional Quarantine," Working Papers 2020-017, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    4. Goldfarb, Avi & Prince, Jeff, 2008. "Internet adoption and usage patterns are different: Implications for the digital divide," Information Economics and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 2-15, March.
    5. Amalia R. Miller & Catherine E. Tucker, 2011. "Can Health Care Information Technology Save Babies?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 119(2), pages 289-324.
    6. Hanming Fang & Long Wang & Yang Yang, 2020. "Human Mobility Restrictions and the Spread of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China," NBER Working Papers 26906, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Athey, Susan & Catalini, Chrsitian & Tucker, Catherine, 2017. "The Digital Privacy Paradox: Small Money, Small Costs, Small Talk," Research Papers 3498, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
    8. Hanming Fang & Long Wang & Yang Yang, 2020. "Human Mobility Restrictions and the Spread of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China," PIER Working Paper Archive 20-011, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
    9. Avi Goldfarb & Catherine Tucker, 2012. "Shifts in Privacy Concerns," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(3), pages 349-353, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ketki Sheth & Greg C. Wright, 2020. "The Usual Suspects: Does Risk Tolerance, Altruism, and Health Predict the Response to Covid-19?," CESifo Working Paper Series 8276, CESifo.
    2. Adams, Abigail & Boneva, Teodora & Golin, Marta & Rauh, Christopher, 2020. "Inequality in the Impact of the Coronavirus Shock: Evidence from Real Time Surveys," CEPR Discussion Papers 14665, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Samuel Bazzi & Martin Fiszbein & Mesay Gebresilasse, 2020. "Rugged Individualism and Collective (In)action During the COVID-19 Pandemic," Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series dp-351, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    4. Mohammad Ghaderi, 2020. "Public Health Interventions in the Face of Pandemics: Network Structure, Social Distancing, and Heterogeneity," Working Papers 1193, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
    5. Avi Goldfarb & Catherine Tucker, 2020. "Which Retail Outlets Generate the Most Physical Interactions?," NBER Working Papers 27042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Anindya Ghose & Beibei Li & Meghanath Macha & Chenshuo Sun & Natasha Ying Zhang Foutz, 2020. "Trading Privacy for the Greater Social Good: How Did America React During COVID-19?," Papers 2006.05859, arXiv.org.
    7. Martin Andersen & Johanna Catherine Maclean & Michael F. Pesko & Kosali I. Simon, 2020. "Effect of a Federal Paid Sick Leave Mandate on Working and Staying at Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence from Cellular Device Data," NBER Working Papers 27138, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Charles Gottlieb & Jan Grobovsek & Markus Poschke, 2020. "Working from Home across Countries," Cahiers de recherche 07-2020, Centre interuniversitaire de recherche en économie quantitative, CIREQ.
    9. Balde, Racky & Boly, Mohamed & Avenyo, Elvis, 2020. "Labour market effects of COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa: An informality lens from Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal," MERIT Working Papers 2020-022, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
    10. Tharcisio Leone, 2020. "COVID-19 sends the bill: Socially disadvantaged workers suffer the severest losses in earnings," Documentos de Trabajo LACEA 018291, The Latin American and Caribbean Economic Association - LACEA.
    11. Alipour, Jean-Victor & Fadinger, Harald & Schymik, Jan, 2020. "My Home Is My Castle -- The Benefits of Working from Home During a Pandemic Crisis: Evidence from Germany," CEPR Discussion Papers 14871, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    12. Raj Chetty & John N. Friedman & Nathaniel Hendren & Michael Stepner & The Opportunity Insights Team, 2020. "How Did COVID-19 and Stabilization Policies Affect Spending and Employment? A New Real-Time Economic Tracker Based on Private Sector Data," NBER Working Papers 27431, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Biroli, Pietro & Bosworth, Steven J. & Della Giusta, Marina & Di Girolamo, Amalia & Jaworska, Sylvia & Vollen, Jeremy, 2020. "Framing the Predicted Impacts of COVID-19 Prophylactic Measures in Terms of Lives Saved Rather Than Deaths Is More Effective for Older People," IZA Discussion Papers 13753, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    14. Mohammad Ghaderi, 2020. "Public health interventions in the face of pandemics: network structure, social distancing, and heterogeneity," Economics Working Papers 1732, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • L96 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Telecommunications
    • L98 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Government Policy
    • M15 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - IT Management

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