The Novel Coronavirus Pandemic adds or intensifies social risks across entire societies, in particular those related to employment and health. Therefore, the Pandemic may disrupt overall well-being. This makes it a test of how well societies are prepared to deal with a sudden global change to social risks. Since the Industrial Revolution, societies started pooling risks socially as welfare states. Employing various forms of social insurance and shifting the burden of risk, and often fault, from individuals to the societal-level, individuals and families are taken care of in case of emergency or need. This has strong implications for risk perceptions under ‘normal’ conditions. The question Breznau’s study then asks is if these welfare state implications extend to an abnormal shock to risk as experienced in the Pandemic.
In a special issue of European Societies, Breznau published his study, "The Welfare State and Risk Perceptions: The Novel Coronavirus Pandemic and Public Concern in 70 Countries". Using novel data from the global COVIDiSTRESS survey, he compares 70 countries in April of 2020, a month where deaths resulting from Covid-19 affected three-quarters of the world’s societies. Controlling for local timing and severity of the pandemic, he finds that welfare state strength predicts lower risk perceptions. However, this it is not a universal effect as expected. The welfare state impact depends on how quickly a government introduced strong ‘lock down’ measures, and thus how effectively they contained or appear to be containing the virus. The longer it took a government to respond the more the welfare state reduces risk perceptions. Governments that took lock down measures in advance of the virus show no variation in risk perceptions, whereas governments that took 30 days to respond have publics with up to 1.5 standard deviations lower marginal risk perceptions in case of the strongest welfare states. Breznau therefore concludes that the welfare state matters very much when governments fail to take effective intervention measures in a global emergency.
Consistent with best practices of open science, Breznau provides all of the data and code for his project on the Open Science Framework. Moreover, as European Societies is a paywalled journal, those interested may access a preprint of the article uploaded to SocArXiv – again consistent with best open science practices and to promote a more ethical, transparent and reproducible for of science.
Dr. Nate Breznau
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy