Living through Lockdown
- Image Aliona Hradovskaya (via Shutterstock)
Living through Lockdown: Social Inequalities and Transformations during the COVID-19 Crisis in France
Ettore Recchi, Emanuele Ferragina, Olivier Godechot, Emily Helmeid, Stefan Pauly, Mirna Safi, Nicolas Sauger, Jen Schradie, Katharina Tittel, Andrew Zola
OSC PAPERS n° 2020-1 (July 2020)
This working paper offers an overview of the first stage of the Coping with Covid (CoCo) project, which tracks the behaviors and attitudes of a representative panel of the French metropolitan population during the COVID-19 lockdown. We conducted five survey waves and administered daily journals of open-ended responses between April and June 2020 among a sample of 1,216 people from a pre-existing panel (ELIPSS). Earlier surveys of this sample allowed us to better contextualize changes that may have occurred during this unusual period.
We outline four experiential dimensions during the lockdown period: relation to work, everyday activities and time use, self-assessed health and well-being, and the framing of the pandemic crisis.
What we foundfollows traditional inequality patterns and also reveals some unexpected changes in social practices and attitudes.
Working (or not): Different Places, Different Fates
The transformation of work was unprecedented: in the first two weeks of the lockdown, only 58 percent of wor-kers held on to their jobs, while the other 42 percent were either furloughed or put on leave. The share of working people increased progressively thereafter.
- Of those who continued working, half did so entirely from home and half stuck to their usual workplace.
- Upper and upper-middle class workers and above-median earners massively commuted to working from home, while lower and lower-middle classes, as long as they could continue to work, did so at the usual work-place.
- Working at one’s usual workplace was correlated with exposure to a sensibly higher risk of infection by the virus over time.
- In contrast to working at the usual workplace, working from home shields against wage drops and COVID-19 infection. However, it closely intertwines domestic and professional work, which may be a source of tensions, notably for home-working women with young children in dual-earning couples.
Staying Put: Home and Close to It
The organization of everyday life changed dramatically in the context of restricted freedom of movement.
- Two weeks into the lockdown, almost 60 percent of individuals in our sample said they had stepped out of their home no more than once a week, although this proportion slowly declined.
- Nearly half of all women in the panel reported that they were doing more housework than before the lockdown, compared to only 29 percent of men.
- Women spent dramatically more time than men supervising their children’s schoolwork.
- People living with kids and in cramped spaces were significantly more likely to experience family tensions.
- People with higher income were much more likely to have more computers/devices and a stable Internet connection, which were vital for working, schooling, shopping, and socializing.
Feeling: Health and Well-Being
The evolution of the pandemic across our panel showed changes in individuals’ health conditions and well-being.
- The proportion of the population claiming to have contracted COVID-19 increased from 7 percent in early April to 9 percent in late May-early June.
- Apart from the direct impact of the virus on physical health, we found that the majority of individuals were not psychologically dejected by the unprecedented situation but actually felt better than beforehand.
- However, the subjective well-being of women, the most financially vulnerable, people living alone, and the unemployed lagged significantly behind the average.
Framing: A Health or Economic Crisis?
The framing of the COVID-19 crisis, as either health or economic in nature, varied across social groups and over time.
- At the beginning of the lockdown, health concerns were stronger but swung to economic concerns over time.
- Women and elderly people tended to always place a stronger emphasis on health while the unemployed and wealthier focused on the economic impact of the crisis.
- In an experiment with respondents, the malleability of opinions on the tradeoff between economic and health concerns reveals the uncertainty created by contradictory information and untested policy options.
We found two major changes related to the lockdown. On the one hand, everyday work practices and loca-tions were either interrupted or transformed. As working online gained traction among the upper-middle class, it created a new divide with people from other social groups who either continued to commute to their usual (and riskier) workplaces or were suddenly furloughed. On the other hand, we recorded a subjective change in well-being that was surprisingly higher than before the pandemic for most people but lagged behind for the less privileged.
Overall, the crisis did not consign everyone to the same situation, as pre-existing inequalities persisted; in parti-cular, women, the financially vulnerable, and the unemployed seemed to suffer the most on many levels, objec-tively and subjectively. Other groups who are by default under-represented in a general population survey like ours—immigrants, residents of the poorest neighborhoods, the homeless, people living in retirement homes, and those without Internet access—were also potentially more exposed to the multifaceted risks and costs entailed by the pandemic and the lockdown than average French Residents.