COVID anxiety and behaviour: different for different countries?

Newly-published research from Equal Lives’ Zafer Büyükkeçeci examines different country responses to the COVID-19 pandemic

The research used the COVID-19 Attitudes and Beliefs survey to look at the anxiety levels and behaviour responses of nearly 100,000 people in 54 countries during March 20 2020 and May 21 2020.

It went on to link that information with data on the countries’ different economic preferences and development to see whether a story emerged about the whether a country context might in some tell us more about the consequences of the pandemic.

Findings showed that women were more anxious than men during the period they were asked about, something the researcher suggests could be due to socially constructed differences between men and women such as caring for the young, elderly, and sick within the family.

People who were single or divorced felt less nervous than those who were married or cohabiting and had lower scores on the overall anxiety index. and similarly, the researcher says this could be due to married individuals being more anxious as they feel the need to protect, assist, and nurture their family members.

When it came to how people behaved in response to the pandemic, women and couples were more proactive than men and singles, respectively, across all the measures looked at.

Patient and developed

Anxiety was less common among people from more patient and developed countries such as Austria, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. Other developed countries where anxiety was low included  Denmark, Israel, Korea, Norway, and Singapore.

Altruistic societies such as Canada, Indonesia, and Philippines suffered more from anxiety. An explanation here could be that individuals living in altruistic societies feel more anxious because of being unable to help family, friends and neighbours because of social distancing rules and self-isolation. 

Countries with higher levels of positive reciprocity and trust, such as Canada, China, Hungary, and Spain, took more considerable precautions. This could be to do with social norms in a particular society where what people think others might approve or disapprove of is considered important.

Commenting on the findings, Zafer said:

The crisis has affected everyday life substantially with cities and towns across the world locking down, schools closing, and individuals being asked to work from home to slow the spread of the infections. It’s already been widely reported that these events are having a major effect on people’s social, mental, and economic well-being.

People’s co-operation – how they respond and behave – is key to bringing the pandemic under control so any information about how people are responding in different country contexts should help inform us about the potential consequences of this and indeed any other pandemic we might face in the future.

Cross-country differences in anxiety and behavioral response to the Covid-19 pandemic is research by Zafer Büyükkeçeci and is published in the Journal of European Societies.