Elizabeth's Comments

COVID-19 and the US Elections

Some states (Washington, California) already have mail-in voting available for everyone, I don't think there are any federal legal barriers to expanding it.

What are the Nth Order Effects of the Coronavirus?

Religious attendance is down already, ideally to zero. What are the long term effects of that?


  • Permanently weaker social ties, especially among the elderly and rural.
    • -> More depression, suicide, addiction
  • Longer time to notice that someone has died and for the body to be discovered (for suicides or otherwise).
  • Families that rely on church assistance go hungry, leading to permanent physical and mental deficits for children.
  • Churches receive fewer donations (both because of lack of physical presence and the recession), some are forced to close.
    • I wanted to make a numerical prediction for this but couldn't find numbers on # of churches over time except for LDS, which has been growing.
  • I expect LDS to make it through this pretty well, possibly even strengthened, because they've led their members to prepare for this and because I expect them to institute social reinforcement over distance.
  • Speed up of the transition to digital services. Gains reduce but do not entirely disappear when social distancing is lifted.
  • Membership takes a permanent hit, faster than counterfactually.
What happens in a recession anyway?

Religious Service Attendance Stays Flat

I was really surprised to find a single academic paper in the last 40 years on religiosity and economic conditions, which was not available online. It reports a "strong" countercyclic effect in religious participation in evangelical Protestants but procyclic effect in mainline Protestants, in the 2001 recession. Meanwhile a Pew poll and a Gallup poll show no change in religious participation during the 2008 recession.

April Coronavirus Open Thread
  • A laboratory study (preprint) showed that covid could live in cat and ferret respiratory systems, but not dogs, pigs, chickens, or ducks. It further found that covid could be passed to from an infected to an uninfected cat in an adjacent cage (doesn't look like they tested transmission in ferrets).
  • A survey (preprint) of Wuhan cats indicated 15% of cats surveyed after the outbreak had antibodies to covid. 0 of 39 cats caught before the outbreak had antibodies.
  • At least one zoo tiger has test-confirmed covid, and several big cats at the zoo are showing symptoms

So it seems pretty likely cats are vulnerable to covid, and may be able to pass it to humans.

How will this recession differ from the last two?

Prediction: Births will decline precipitously (BOTEC: 20%-60%).

A normal recession sees a drop in birth rates of ~9%, although that is typically made up mostly of delays rather than entirely foregone children. Due to fear around interaction with the medical system, I expect it to drop much more than that.

BOTEC: ~40% of births in the US result from unplanned pregnancies. If no one took any additional precautions due to covid and everyone who was planning a pregnancy chose to postpone, that would decrease births by 60%. In reality I expect some "unplanned" pregnancies to be planned out of existence as people take more precautions, and some people to plan pregnancies even given the circumstances (disproportionately older women whose fertility window is running out, although births using fertility treatments will decline), but 60% is still a good upper bound.

I expect at least as many people to prevent pregnancy due to covid as prevent pregnancy during a recession, so there should be a minimum of 2x as many foregone or delayed births. With rounding, that's a 20% floor.

What happens in a recession anyway?

People die a little less often, especially in nursing homes.

Note: data is for the United States only

Deaths go down during recessions; according to Ruhm 2002, a 1% decrease in the unemployment rate is associated with an average 0.4% rise in total mortality (about 13,000 deaths, relative to the average of ~2.8m). This is counterintuitive, because wealth is associated with longevity (e.g. Chetty et al. 2016) . There were a lot of potential explanations for this centering on how work was dangerous and didn’t leave time for health, but it turns out most of the additional deaths are concentrated among groups that were unlikely to be employed in the first place, such as those over 70 (70% of the total) or under 4. Fewer than 10% of the additional deaths occur among those between the ages of 25 and 64 (Stevens et al 2011).

Why does employment of working-age adults have such an impact on elderly mortality? Stevens et al make a compelling case that it’s because widespread unemployment increases the relative number of people willing to take unpleasant, low-paying nursing home jobs, particularly entry level “aide” positions, and this improves care of residents.

What are the Nth Order Effects of the Coronavirus?

I'm curious why you don't expect this to bounce back when the pandemic or recession is over?

April Coronavirus Open Thread

This is fantastic. Can I encourage you to make it a top level post?

What is the impact of varying infectious dose of COVID-19?

Do you know if outside-the-home includes hospital transmission? That could skew things severely.

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