Study finds your social distancing habits reveal your social class

Social distancing became one of the most powerful ways to fight the coronavirus pandemic in early March, as businesses, offices, schools, and other places shuttered doors in an effort to flatten the curve.

While the country continues to operate with social distancing measures, a new study found that some do it better than others depending on your upbringing.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis found that social distancing patterns vary in the US based on communities. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that wealthier communities moved less during the pandemic while poorer areas were more mobile, a shift from how each community acted before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We found that before the pandemic, individuals in the wealthiest neighborhoods tended to be the least likely to stay completely at home on a given day,” lead author Joakim Weill, a graduate student with the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, said in a press release. “But when the states of emergency came into play, individuals living in the wealthiest areas stayed home the most. It was a complete reversal.”

The study used data from mobile device locations between January and April earlier this year to measure social distancing patterns. Its findings pointed toward a 25% increase in wealthy communities staying put at home, while just a 10% jump from poorer sectors.

While researchers said that the study cannot find the reason for the reversal in patterns, it did note the reasoning for the flip could be because lower-income communities have more essential workers and limited space to work remotely compared to wealthier neighborhoods.

“As policymakers are thinking about emergency relief packages, this points to the need for lower-income regions to be an area of focus in order to build capacity for social distancing and other measures critical to reduce the spread of this disease,” Michael Springborn, an environmental economist and associate professor with the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy and senior author of the study, said. “This is just one piece of a broader set of emerging results showing that lower-income neighborhoods are particularly vulnerable as the pandemic proceeds.”