Munich Personal RePEc Archive

COVID-19 and Social Distancing in the Absence of Legal Enforcement: Survey Evidence from Japan

Shoji, Masahiro and Cato, Susumu and Iida, Takashi and Ishida, Kenji and Ito, Asei and McElwain, Kenneth (2020): COVID-19 and Social Distancing in the Absence of Legal Enforcement: Survey Evidence from Japan.

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Abstract

Do people keep social distance to mitigate the infection risk of COVID-19, even without aggressive policy interventions? The Japanese government did not restrict individuals’ activities despite the early confirmation of infections, and as a result, economic damages were limited in the initial stage of infection spread. Exploiting these features, we examine the association between the subsequent increase in infections and voluntary social-distancing behavior. Using unique monthly panel survey data, we find that the increase in risk is associated with the likelihood of social-distancing behavior. However, those with lower educational attainment are less responsive, implying their higher exposure to infections. We provide evidence that this can be attributed to their underestimation of infection risk, while we cannot fully rule out the roles of income opportunity costs and poor information access. These results suggest the utility of interventions incorporating nudges to raise risk perception, as well as financial support for low-income households.

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