Social connections with COVID-19-affected areas increase compliance with mobility restrictions

Vesa Pursiainen (University of Hong Kong)

Vesa Pursiainen (University of Hong Kong) studies the role of social connections in U.S. households’ compliance with mobility restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, using aggregated and anonymized Facebook data on social connections and mobile phone data for measuring social distancing at the county level. Relative to average, a one-standard-deviation increase in social connections with China and Italy - the first countries with major outbreaks of the virus - is associated with a nearly 50% increase in the estimated effect of mobility restrictions. Our results are not driven by traveler risk, as areas at higher risk from COVID-19 generally comply with restrictions more and are less affected by social connections. Social connections with counties with a less educated population, higher Trump vote share, and a higher fraction of climate change deniers are associated with decreased effects of mobility restrictions. Our findings are consistent with social networks contributing to people’s information acquisition about the pandemic.

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