Study highlights inequality, dangers of how different socio-economic groups approach coronavirus, Newsline

Cape Town – The dangers of an “optimism bias” and ‘’over-assessment of risk’’ among different socio-economic groups was highlighted in the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM).

The study, which was released today, showed that the subjective risk perception the virus poses is significantly concentrated among the higher income groups, the educated and older respondents.

‘’There is an optimism bias among black Africans, lower income, less educated and younger age groups,” according to the survey.

“Increased level of employment and increased coefficient effects have contributed significantly to increased subjective risk perception over the two periods of study.

“The optimism bias among the less affluent category, together with the higher subjective risk perception among the affluent section, point to the role of socio-economic status in subjective assessment of the risk of contracting the virus…

“While there is a significant increase in subjective risk perception between June and August 2020 across the board, the non-blacks have significantly higher subjective risk perception compared to the black African population.”

There was concern that the optimism bias among the less affluent economic groups needs to be addressed to prevent risky behaviour. On the other hand, the researchers said there is also a need to steer the affluent groups away from an over-assessment of risk.

“This is in the interest of controlling over-anxiety and mental health issues among these groups,” the study said.

The first wave of the NIDS-CRAM survey was conducted in May and June, and the second wave was administered in July and August. Therefore, about 25% of the first wave was under lockdown level 4 conditions, while 75% was under level 3 conditions.

The study said there is significant income- and education-related inequality between the types of preventive measures adopted.

”The results indicate that social distancing, avoiding close contact and the use of sanitisers are practised more among the educated.

”The use of face mask was also pro-educated in wave 1 but has become insignificant in wave 2, indicating its popularity cutting across education lines.

“The low-income respondents are not able to maintain physical distancing measures as the economy opens up.

‘’There is a pro-poor bias among the respondents who reported news (radio, TV, newspapers, internet, etc) as their primary source of reliable information. However, no education- or age-related differences were found in this regard.

“The less educated and older age groups reported health workers as the most trusted source of information on Covid-19.”

The survey showed that the use of face masks has overtaken hand-washing as the most utilised preventive measure.

‘’Face mask use in public is reported as high with an insignificant percentage reporting non-compliance with the regulation of wearing a face mask while going out in public.

‘’While there is an increased use of hand sanitisers and home cleaning as preventive measures against infection in June as compared to April, other measures like social distancing, avoiding close contact, avoiding big groups and staying at home has declined between the two periods.”

The study said age-related concentration indices indicate that the pro-young concentration in behavioural change has declined but still remains significant. “While the use of a flu vaccine is revealed as a pro-older individual strategy, social distancing is evident as a pro-young measure.”

With the opening up of the economy and the return of individuals to employment, it has become harder for individuals, especially in the lower categories, to observe physical distancing.

The researchers said that clear messaging on the appropriate use of masks like regular washing of reusable masks needs to be given so that the mask use remains effective.

‘’The growing complacency with regards to physical distancing is of concern. It is recommended that the emphasis on physical distancing be reinforced as a complementary measure to the use of a face mask.

‘’Reintroduction of restricted capacity use of taxis will enable physical distancing for the less affluent who are the users of this mode of transport.

‘’To target the most-risky group of the elderly, less educated, low-income individuals, it is important to utilise health workers and community leaders more.”