Social Status and Pandemic Spread

Research question/goal: 

A prevailing opinion in the social sciences is that pandemics spread primarily among people of lower social status. In this project, we challenge this view and argue that this only holds true in the later phases of pandemics. In the critical early phases, by contrast, people of higher social status should drive the 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 infection prevention measures are already in place and people of higher social status can adhere to them much more consistently than people of lower social status (e.g. because the nature of lower-status jobs often makes physical distancing difficult). In earlier pandemic phases, people of higher social status drive the spread, because infection prevention measures are not yet in place during these phases, and people of higher social status possess more diverse social networks, which put them at particular risk of catching and spreading novel viruses. In a preliminary study 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 derive reliable policy recommendations. The project addresses three research questions in particular: (RQ1) The preliminary evidence is based on regional-level COVID-19 data only. Can this evidence be generalized to the individual level? (RQ2) The preliminary study uses data from nations with a comparatively early pandemic onset only. Can the findings be generalized to nations with later onsets—that is, nations that had more time to prepare for the pandemic? (RQ3) The preliminary evidence is based on data from the first wave of COVID-19 only. Can this evidence be generalized to later waves—that is, waves in which the virus is no longer new 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: 
ongoing
Data Sources: 
SOEP, Web scraped data from an online cemetery, official regional COVID data from 18 governmental agencies
Geographic Space: 
International

Publications