Journal Article

The societal responses to COVID-19: Evidence from the G7 countries

PNAS, 119 (25) e2117155119

This paper provides a picture of how societies in the G7 countries have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our point of departure is to examine the effects of the pandemic in terms of four fundamental normative sources for well-being: Solidarity (S; willingness for social cooperation), Agency (A; empowerment to shape one’s prospects through one’s own efforts), GDP (G), and Environmental Performance (E)—SAGE for short. The normative foundations of SAGE are communitarianism, classical liberalism, materialistic utilitarianism, and ecoethics. We find that although G and E responded predictably and uniformly to the pandemic (such as G declining and carbon emissions improving), the societal responses were strikingly different. Societies that are cohesive and empowered (high S and A) may be expected to cope with the pandemic better than those that are fragmented and disempowered (low S and A). Furthermore, the pandemic has had diverse effects on S and A; while some societies became cohering and empowering (rising S and A), others became fragmenting and disempowering (falling S and A), and yet others became fragmenting and empowering. We also show that most G7 countries experienced greater tribalization (measured as the difference between inward S and outward S) during the pandemic. These trends are a matter of concern since they suggest that the willingness and perceived ability to address collective challenges collectively have waned. The analysis also suggests that governments’ social policies may have an important role to play alongside economic and health policies in coping with the pandemic.