UC Berkeley & Embee Mobile Research Reveals Insights into Personal Beliefs and Behaviors, and Economic Impact, During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Embee Mobile, the company that builds and manages unique mobile-based insight communities, and the University of California Berkeley, announced a COVID-19 research brief titled “The Changing Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Individuals and Households in the U.S.” reveals insights into two key areas – pandemic behaviors and attitudes, and the economic impact of the pandemic. The research challenges existing, singularly focused research by instead examining the interrelatedness of human behaviors, institutional actions, personal beliefs, and health outcomes.

“The preliminary data from our COVID-19 research suggests there’s an axis of pain and an axis of non-compliance,” said Raja Sengupta, a professor at UC Berkeley and director of its Smart Pandemic Management Group “People suffering economically suffer in other ways, as with a group of people who are being so disproportionately hurt as we speak that they are in desperate need of immediate and substantive relief. This data should be used to better target stimulus need beyond just income, taking the other economic indicators into consideration such as instability in housing, dependence on transit, and the absence of wealth.”

Sengupta continues, “The data also suggests an axis of non-compliance in pandemic behavior, in which those who are non-compliant in one way, are non-compliant in many ways. This explains why pandemic management is more effective when done with community organizations that know their community. Perhaps a small group of people spread the disease by being vulnerable behaviorally, or by virtue of their work and housing. To hunt the virus, you have to understand the people in your community and our research will help communities do this.”

No Masks, Attending Events, and Refusal to Get Vaccinated Are Related Behaviors

Ten months into the pandemic and the issue of wearing masks is still a hot-button issue in various areas across the country. 52% of the panelists admitted to not always wearing masks as recommended by public health officials. The impact of simply not wearing a mask is compounded when we take the beliefs and behavior of this group into consideration. Not only are non-mask wearers traveling significantly more than mask-wearers, but this group of people is:

  • 181% more likely to believe that COVID-19-related restrictions are too strict
  • 73% more likely to have attended an event with more than 10 people in the last two weeks
  • 64% more likely to say they will definitely not get a vaccine when one becomes available
  • 39% more likely to identify as politically conservative
  • 21% less likely to closely follow the news

Conservatives More Likely to Take Health Risks During the Pandemic

Overall, 21% of the panelists identify as conservative, while moderates make up 40% of the panel. Looking specifically at those who identify as conservative, we can see they are more likely to take risks with their health, and the health of others, during the pandemic due to their behavior and beliefs, as compared to other panelists. This group of people is:

  • 206% more likely to believe that COVID-19-related restrictions are too strict
  • 154% more likely to never wear a mask while socializing
  • 123% more likely to believe that the government should not mandate masks
  • 70% more likely to say they will definitely not get vaccinated
  • 39% more likely to believe that social distancing does not stop the spread
  • 20% more likely to believe that businesses can’t survive social distancing

Insights Into the 34% Who Push Back on COVID-19 Vaccination

Prior to the pandemic one of our most divisive health issues was vaccination and its potential risks, and it has carried over into conversations about the various COVID-19 vaccines that are now being administered. The willingness to get vaccinated has decreased between the August and October surveys, as 30% initially reported they would definitely be getting vaccinated with this number later dropping to 20%. In total, more than one-third (34%) of panelists reported that they will not likely get a COVID-19 vaccine. This group of people is:

  • 52% more likely to be women with at least one child under the age of six
  • 66% more likely to identify as politically conservative
  • 48% more likely to say they can’t endure the economic impact of the pandemic anymore
  • 57% more likely to say religion is very important in their life

It’s a Grim Outlook for Those Who Can’t Endure the Pandemic’s Economic Impact

More than one out of every five panelists (22%) report that they could no longer endure the negative economic impact that the pandemic has had on their lives. Alarmingly, things will only get worse for this group with homelessness, depression, and the breakdown of household relationships coming into play. This group of people is:

  • 447% more likely to report they have an unstable place of residence
  • 173% more likely to be significantly impacted by transit cuts
  • 111% more likely to report their relationship with their household has worsened
  • 103% more likely to screen positive for depression
  • 70% more likely to not have health insurance

More Households are Moving Residences and for Reasons of Economic Precarity

While the news may report that many are moving out of large metropolitan areas to areas where they can have more space, the reality is that more households are moving for reasons of economic precarity. The national average for moving is 10% annually according to the U.S. Census Bureau, yet 12% of panelists said they have moved since the pandemic began in March 2020. This group of people is:

  • 151% more likely to suspect they have been infected by COVID-19
  • 81% more likely to not have health insurance
  • 26% more likely to be unable to pay bills if an emergency expense of $400 comes up

Transit Cuts Tied to Decreased Income, Decreased Elder Care for Vulnerable Households

With more people working from home due to the pandemic and no longer commuting, cuts to public transportation have followed. Unfortunately, those who are affected by transit cuts – many of whom are seeking employment – become more vulnerable in a number of ways. Fifteen percent of panelists report they are impacted by transit cuts and this group of people is:

  • 143% more likely to have no household vehicle access
  • 48% more likely to be people of color
  • 36% more likely to have experienced decreased income since August
  • 19% more likely to be caring for an elderly or disabled person
  • 16% less likely to be female

UC Berkeley and Embee Mobile expect to continue collecting and processing data to provide additional insights on pandemic management, behavior, and impacts as the pandemic continues.

The full report can be accessed here.