Four LSU Finance Professors Co-authored a Paper Uncovering the Influence of Demographics and Governmental Restrictions on Social Distancing

September 22, 2020

Rajesh Narayanan      R. Kelley Pace                  Rajesh Narayanan                              R. Kelley Pace
James Nordlund             Dimuthu Ratnadiwakera
James Nordlund                Dimuthu Ratnadiwakera

BATON ROUGE- Department of Finance professors Rajesh Narayanan and R. Kelley Pace, and assistant professors James Nordlund and Dimuthu Ratnadiwakera, co-authored a paper accepted for publication by PLOS ONE.

Their paper, titled “Demographic, Jurisdictional, and Spatial Effects on Social Distancing in the United States during the COVID-19 Pandemic” used cell phone location and mobility data to reveal that social distancing in the U.S. during the Covid-19 pandemic was initially voluntary rather than a response to governmental jurisdictional restrictions. As the pandemic progressed, both effects reinforced each other, increasing social distancing far more than what could be explained by the sum of the individual effects.

To provide a clear picture of social distancing across geographic areas, the authors developed a computational model of social distancing behavior throughout the U.S. The model uses cell phone tracking data to indicate the amount of time spent at home—a proxy for social distancing—in counties throughout the country. The researchers used this model to explore how stay-at-home behaviors evolved over the first 21 weeks of the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., from late January to June 2020. They examined how social distancing changed concerning governmental restrictions at the state level and county-level demographic factors that could influence social distancing, such as population density, children's presence in households, education, race, and income.

The analysis suggests that stay-at-home behavior increased by over nine times from late January through late March, and then decreased by about 50% through mid-June. Findings indicate that demographic factors drove these changes to a substantially greater degree, signifying the importance of individual behavior in social distancing (either due to voluntary distancing or to differential compliance with mandated distancing). Notably, there was also a tendency for behaviors to cluster, creating hotspots of counties with low social distancing. An important implication of these outcomes is that encouraging voluntary distancing could be an effective and lower-cost alternative to governmental restrictions. Such encouragement could boost acceptance of restrictions and thus increased compliance with distancing rules, resulting in an even greater degree of distancing.

The full study is available online here: .

PLOS ONE is an inclusive journal community working together to advance science for the benefit of society, now and in the future. Founded with the aim of accelerating the pace of scientific advancement and demonstrating its value, it believes all rigorous science needs to be published and discoverable, widely disseminated and freely accessible to all. The research we publish is multidisciplinary and, often, interdisciplinary. PLOS ONE accepts research in over 200 subject areas across science, engineering, medicine, and the related social sciences and humanities.

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Bridget Conrad
E. J. Ourso College of Business