Social Status and Pandemic Spread

Research question/goal: 

A staple across social sciences states that pandemics spread primarily among people of lower social status. In this project we challenge this staple and argue that it holds true for later phases of pandemics only. At the critical early phases, by contrast, people of higher social status should drive pandemic spread.

Our phase-sensitive model of status-dependent pandemic spread states the following: In later pandemic phases, people of lower social status drive the spread because in those phases spread-prevention norms are in place, which people of higher social status have the luxury to follow much more thoroughly than people of lower social status (e.g., the nature of lower-status jobs often renders physical distancing difficult). In earlier pandemic phases, people of higher social status should drive the spread, because in those phases spread-prevention norms are not yet in place and people of higher social status possess social networks, which put them at particular risk to catch and spread novel viruses. In preliminary research on two pandemics (COVID-19, 1918/19 Spanish Flu) and three nations (U.S., England, Germany) we found evidence for our phase-sensitive model. Yet, more research is needed to gain a deeper theoretical understanding of our model and to confidently derive policy recommendations. The project addresses three questions in particular: (RQ1) The preliminary evidence relies on regional-level COVID-19 data only. Does that evidence generalize to the individual level? (RQ2) The preliminary evidence relies on data from nations with a comparatively early pandemic onset only. Does that evidence generalize to nations with later onsets—nations that had more time to prepare for the pandemic? (RQ3) The preliminary evidence relies on data from the first wave of COVID-19 only. Does that evidence generalize to later waves—waves in which the virus is no more novel to any societal stratum?

Current stage: 

The project will officially start in April 2022, but preparatory steps are currently being undertaken. Specifically, data access is being secured, secondary data collected, and analysis scripts prepared. First analyses will be conducted (and, thus, first results obtained) once the project and the corresponding funding period have officially begun.

Fact sheet

Funding: 
DFG
Duration: 
2021 to 2023
Status: 
in preparation
Data Sources: 
SOEP, Web scraped data from an online cemetery, official regional COVID data from 18 governmental agencies
Geographic Space: 
Europe

Publications