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Faculty of Economics

Friday, 30 April, 2021

“We have looked at what happened in lockdown, and there is a widening gender gap in mental health which cannot be explained by what we would regard as normal reasons,” says Dr Christopher Rauh, a University Lecturer at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge. “The people we studied are working less and hence earning less than usual or even losing their job.”

Some are struggling to pay their bills, and you would certainly expect that to take a toll on their psychological state. However, he says “even if we look at the change in their work patterns or number of hours spent on childcare, it doesn’t equate to the impact we saw on their state of mind.”

His research indicates that it is social isolation which has led to the most marked deterioration of mental health, in particular among women. “This is in addition to the impact of the economic crisis caused by Covid being unequally distributed, with women, the young, and those with lower levels of education bearing the brunt of the downturn in terms of job and earnings losses,” he adds.

In the paper The impact of the Coronavirus lockdown on mental health: Evidence from the US, Dr Rauh, Adams-Prassl, A, T Boneva, and M Golin studied how the imposition of a lockdown affects someone’s psychological state, and examines the mental condition of a person who lives in a state in the US that imposed stay-at-home orders. To contrast this, they compared this state to another person living in a state with no such restrictions, using evidence from the 2020 ‘stay-at-home’ orders in US states.

“We found a large negative impact on mental health of 0.08 standard deviations was evident in states that had stay-at-home orders in place,” he says.

The research team used the World Health Organization’s standard five questions capturing feelings and sentiments of current state of mind. They found the negative impact of state-wide stay-at-home measures on mental health was driven entirely by women.

“At first sight, this might appear not to be a surprising finding given that women also suffered more on the job market,” he says. “However, neither the economic losses nor the severity of the health crisis, in terms of confirmed Covid cases and deaths in a respondent’s county, can explain the widening gender gap.”

More details of the research are in the paper: The impact of the Coronavirus lockdown on mental health: Evidence from the US.

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