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Civic Capital and Social Distancing during the Covid-19 Pandemic


  • John M. Barrios
  • Efraim Benmelech
  • Yael V. Hochberg
  • Paola Sapienza
  • Luigi Zingales


The success of non-pharmaceutical interventions to contain pandemics often depends greatly upon voluntary compliance with government guidelines. What explains variation in voluntary compliance? Using mobile phone and survey data, we show that during the early phases of COVID-19, voluntary social distancing was higher when individuals exhibit a higher sense of civic duty. This is true for U.S. individuals, U.S. counties, and European regions. We also show that after U.S. states began re-opening, social distancing remained more prevalent in high civic capital counties. Our evidence points to the importance of civic capital in designing public policy responses to pandemics.

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  • John M. Barrios & Efraim Benmelech & Yael V. Hochberg & Paola Sapienza & Luigi Zingales, 2020. "Civic Capital and Social Distancing during the Covid-19 Pandemic," NBER Working Papers 27320, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:27320
    Note: CF POL

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. John M. Barrios & Yael Hochberg, 2020. "Risk Perception Through the Lens of Politics in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic," NBER Working Papers 27008, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Bargain, Olivier & Aminjonov, Ulugbek, 2020. "Trust and compliance to public health policies in times of COVID-19," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 192(C).
    3. Allcott, Hunt & Boxell, Levi & Conway, Jacob & Gentzkow, Matthew & Thaler, Michael & Yang, David, 2020. "Polarization and public health: Partisan differences in social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 191(C).
    4. Alberto Alesina & Paola Giuliano, 2015. "Culture and Institutions," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 53(4), pages 898-944, December.
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    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • P16 - Political Economy and Comparative Economic Systems - - Capitalist Economies - - - Capitalist Institutions; Welfare State
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics

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