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Expectations, Infections, and Economic Activity


  • Martin S. Eichenbaum
  • Miguel Godinho de Matos
  • Francisco Lima
  • Sergio Rebelo
  • Mathias Trabandt


The Covid epidemic had a large impact on economic activity. In contrast, the dramatic decline in mortality from infectious diseases over the past 120 years had a small economic impact. We argue that people’s response to successive Covid waves helps reconcile these two findings. Our analysis uses a unique administrative data set with anonymized monthly expenditures at the individual level that covers the first three Covid waves. Consumer expenditures fell by about the same amount in the first and third waves, even though the risk of getting infected was larger in the third wave. We find that people had pessimistic prior beliefs about the case-fatality rates that converged over time to the true case-fatality rates. Using a model where Covid is endemic, we show that the impact of Covid is small when people know the true case-fatality rate but large when people have empirically-plausible pessimistic prior beliefs about the case-fatality rate. These results reconcile the large economic impact of Covid with the small effect of the secular decline in mortality from infectious diseases estimated in the literature.

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  • Martin S. Eichenbaum & Miguel Godinho de Matos & Francisco Lima & Sergio Rebelo & Mathias Trabandt, 2020. "Expectations, Infections, and Economic Activity," NBER Working Papers 27988, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:27988
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Martin S Eichenbaum & Sergio Rebelo & Mathias Trabandt, 2021. "The Macroeconomics of Epidemics [Economic activity and the spread of viral diseases: Evidence from high frequency data]," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 34(11), pages 5149-5187.
    2. Giovanni Immordino & Tullio Jappelli & Tommaso Oliviero & Alberto Zazzaro, 2022. "Fear of COVID‐19 contagion and consumption: Evidence from a survey of Italian households," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 31(3), pages 496-507, March.
    3. Bruno P. Carvalho & Susana Peralta & João Pereira dos Santos, 2022. "Regional and sectorial impacts of the Covid‐19 crisis: Evidence from electronic payments," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 62(3), pages 757-798, June.
    4. Claire Greene & Ellen A. Merry & Joanna Stavins, 2021. "Has COVID Changed Consumer Payment Behavior?," Working Papers 21-12, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • G51 - Financial Economics - - Household Finance - - - Household Savings, Borrowing, Debt, and Wealth
    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health

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