What does COVID-19 do to society?

What does COVID-19 do to society?

Looking back at the First Policy Seminar of the School of Public Affairs
  • © DisobeyArt/Shutterstock© DisobeyArt/Shutterstock

By Ebenezer Makinde, Natascha Schoepl, Sonia Yazidi 

A year on from the COVID-19 Crisis, the students of the School of Public Affairs reflect on the effect of the COVID crisis on French society, with expert insights from Dr. Ettore Recchi and Dr. Emanuele Ferragina. Dr. Recchi and Dr. Ferragina recently worked on the COVID-19 pandemic with a team of researchers at the Observatoire Sociologique du Changement. The policy seminar was moderated by students* from the Politics & Public Policy stream who share their key takeaways. 

This policy seminar was the first of four bilingual seminars, aimed at giving students direct insight into the sociological impact of a global health crisis. The speakers presented their work on Social Inequalities and Transformations during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the effects of lockdown on society, especially in France. In their project Coping with Covid (COCO): The Experience of Lockdown in the French Population, Dr. Recchi and Dr. Ferragina conducted quantitative experiments featuring a pre-existing panel of participants, in the form of surveys, to see how the pandemic affected social relationships and lifestyles. 

Telework, Well-Being, Inequalities and Online Fatigue 

Telework: A Temporary Switch

There has been a decline in propensity to work from home. There is a huge gap between
managers and professionals, who were more likely to work from home, as opposed to other
workers. A noticeable gender gap has also emerged; working from home was more common
for managers and professionals, and particularly for women in these occupations Dr. Recchi stated that, “this suggests the class gap is larger among women than men and that it needs to be investigated more”.

Health and Well-being under lockdown study, 2017 to lockdown period

Self-reported health of people who were in good health went up during lockdown, apart from blue collar workers, who remained on par with pre-pandemic years. This could be due to larger exposure of blue workers to epidemic risks, impacting their personal health. Despite what the media says about the mental health of the French population, people’s sense of well-being increased compared to 2019 - it was 15% higher than in 2019, until early stages of lockdown. In October 2020, people began going back to work, opening up schools and well-being declined, however it did not go lower to  pre-Covid levels, which could be due to pandemic fatigue. 

Inequalities in subjective well-being

People who caught COVID-19 did not improve their well-being. Women, people living alone, the unemployed and financially vulnerable all felt significantly worse than the majority. These were also people who are faring worse than the average in 2018. This means that there was not much difference generated by the crisis for the under-privileged.

Online Fatigue & Inequalities

Lower-class people were more likely to have an insufficient internet connection, as well as those living in rural areas; 25% of people in the countryside complained about the quality of their internet connection.

Two Experiments Regarding Austerity Narratives:

The first experiment measured if and to what degree public preferences could be manipulated towards prioritizing the economy. The researchers asked respondents the questions, “should the lockdown be extended or should the economy be reopened?” The second experiment focused on austerity. They wanted to see if people could be manipulated by austerity narratives by asking, “should the furlough scheme be continued or progressively ended?” 

The first experiment had an “incredible result”: the number of people who wanted to end the lockdown, even if the pandemic was not under control, increased from 36% to 66%. This shift was consistent across every socioeconomic group. The result of the second experiment  was that the population wasn’t manipulated by austerity narratives and were willing to continue the furlough scheme. 

Their overall conclusion was the following: that people wanted more social spending after the pandemic; that public opinion was highly manipulable between health and economic concerns at the peak of the pandemic; and that, despite being highly manipulable about double-edged crisis, people didn't seem to be manipulable in June 2020, and were not influenced by austerity narratives (apart from higher-class people).

Eye of the Hurricane Paradox

While the world was collapsing around them, many people were not affected by the pandemic; they maintained a stable salary and were with their family whilst working at home. How can we explain this? 

  • When people see the external conditions around them deteriorating, yet their personal situation is stable, they tend to describe themselves in more positive terms. 
  • Collective excitement: Tragic events trigger collective emotion, which makes people feel reactive, closer, stronger. 
  • Lastly, the acceleration thesis: the lockdown helped to slow down normal life. 

In conclusion, it appears that the pandemic increased socioeconomic divides at a material level, but also the ways people perceived public policy routes during a crisis.

Lotta Badenheuer, Antonio Contini, Ebenezer Makinde, Javier Martin Merchan, Roisin Ni Chionna, Victor Pellicero Calvo, Laura Ruiz Oltra, Sonia Sassi, Natascha Schoepl, Sonia Yazidi.

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