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Modeling Behavior during a Pandemic: Using HIV as an Historical Analogy

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  • Nicholas W. Papageorge

Abstract

Many models from epidemiology are not designed to capture tradeoffs between health and economic well-being and few are equipped to predict how these tradeoffs interact with individuals’ preferences to influence behavior. Policies based on such models may not reflect societal preferences or capture how preferences affect behavior and disease spread. Models with epidemiological processes that do incorporate behavior change or health-wealth tradeoffs (mostly from economics) drastically limit individual-level heterogeneity to remain tractable. This makes it difficult to understand variation in behavioral responses and distributional consequences of the pandemic, which should be central to any evaluation of pandemic-related policy. Without the proper tools, we are unable to fully address even basic policy questions, such as whether the long-run effects of social-distancing justify the costs - and if so, for whom and under what circumstances. After reviewing modeling approaches from epidemiology and economics (among other fields), I propose a framework adapted from earlier work on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Analysis of individual behavior is based on the idea that health is a form of human capital in which individuals invest through their choices. The model integrates individual level variation that other frameworks omit, but does so at the cost of drastically limiting aggregate economic and epidemiological processes. I conclude that what is needed is a multi-disciplinary effort that helps to bridge gaps across disciplines, which would amount to constructing models that capture key features of different approaches. To be useful in evaluating pandemic-related policy, such a model should have rich heterogeneity and capture how individual choices are linked to the broad contours of disease spread and aggregate economic output. Whether such an effort would be feasible and fruitful remains to be seen.

Suggested Citation

  • Nicholas W. Papageorge, 2021. "Modeling Behavior during a Pandemic: Using HIV as an Historical Analogy," NBER Working Papers 28898, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:28898
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    Cited by:

    1. Ejrnæs, Mette & García-Miralles, Esteban & Gørtz, Mette & Lundborg, Petter, 2023. "When Death Was Postponed: The Effect of HIV Medication on Work, Savings, and Marriage," IZA Discussion Papers 16228, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. Mariella Nenova, 2022. "Households’ Consumption Pattern and Saving – Evidence for the First Year of the Covid-19 Pandemic in Bulgaria," Economic Studies journal, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences - Economic Research Institute, issue 6, pages 3-22.
    3. Mette Ejrnæs & Esteban García-Miralles & Mette Gørtz & Petter Lundborg, 2022. "When Death was Postponed: The Effect of HIV Medication on Work and Marriage," CEBI working paper series 22-08, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics. The Center for Economic Behavior and Inequality (CEBI).
    4. Lorena G Barberia & Maria Leticia Claro Oliveira & Andrea Junqueira & Natália de Paula Moreira & Guy D. Whitten, 2021. "Should I stay or should I go? Embracing causal heterogeneity in the study of pandemic policy and citizen behavior," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 102(5), pages 2055-2069, September.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I14 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Inequality
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality
    • J20 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - General

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