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Personal distance norms and mental costs of the COVID-19 pandemic for the elderly

Alice Rees, UCLouvain
Malgorzata Mikucka, Mannheim University
Christine Schnor, UCLouvain

The COVID-19 pandemic altered the social lives of people across the globe, and sanitary measures of physical isolation exacerbated mental load. This research incorporates cultural differences into the debate on COVID-19 consequences. We test the hypothesis that the mental burden of the pandemic was greater in countries with cultures of close physical contact; we also study the interplay between culture and COVID-19 restrictions and individual behavior. We use three outcome variables: increase of loneliness, anxiety, and depression compared to the period before the pandemic. Our individual-level data come from SHARE survey for 14 European countries and cover population aged 50+. We supplement them with data on country-specific preferred interpersonal distance and on sanitary measures and death toll during the pandemic. Our results show that in countries with norm for closer physical contact increase of loneliness was more common. Moreover, in countries where people were required to stay at home except for essential trips, loneliness, anxiety, and depression increased for a greater share of population. However, this increase was greater in cultures of close physical distance. Our results suggest that culture affects the mental impact of COVID-19 pandemic and of specific sanitary measures introduced in response to the pandemic.

Keywords: Older adults, COVID-19, Cross-country comparative analyses, Multi-level modeling

No extended abstract or paper available

  Presented in Session 200. Intergenerational Relations, Living Arrangements and COVID-19