Are young people unfairly blamed for driving the spread of COVID-19?
The recent second wave of COVID-19 infections besetting countries around the world has re-fueled narratives of young people as the main spreaders of the disease. These perspectives often cast young adults as irresponsible and dismissive of COVID-19 risks and public health.
Our report on Phase I of the Life with Corona survey (March – September, 2020) documented evidence challenging such simple narratives. In fact, our data suggested that many young adults had actively engaged in numerous “hygiene” and “avoidance” behaviours to counter the pandemic. Hygiene behaviours involve actively doing something (e.g. washing hands; wearing gloves; or donning a mask) while avoidance behaviours involve foregoing something that used to be relatively routine in pre-pandemic times (e.g. travelling by public transport or meeting people in groups). In this post, we revisit the question using LwC Phase II data from October 2020 till March 2021, which includes the second wave of infections in many countries.
New analyses based on 20,087 observations from 12 countries corroborate the findings from Phase I: the total number of counter-corona behaviours applied is relatively high across age groups, including young people, and the differences between age groups are very modest. In all age groups, total average falls into a narrow range between about 6.7 and 7.1 out of 9 measured behaviours. 18 to 25-year olds are not the age group that performs the least number of hygiene behaviours, nor the least avoidance behaviours. In both cases, “middle-aged” people (those aged 45-54) engage in the fewest counter-corona behaviours.
We do, however, observe significant differences in behaviours across countries. Country-level mean outcomes range from about 5.8 (Austria) to 7.7 (Brazil) out of 9 behaviours to counter the pandemic. This could reflect variation in the nature and enforcement of government regulations across countries or cultural differences related to following prescribed rules or taking self-led action. Certainly, the total number of behaviours appears to vary more strongly across countries than across age groups.
ISDC – International Security and Development Center gGmbH