A behavioral economic risk aversion experiment in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

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PLoS One. 2021 Jan 19;16(1):e0245261. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245261. eCollection 2021.


We investigated what degree of risk of infection with COVID-19 is necessary so that people intend to stay home, even when doing so means losing their salary. We conducted an online survey across Brazil during the initial outbreak, in which 8,345 participants answered a questionnaire designed to identify the maximum tolerated risk (k’) necessary for them to disregard social distancing recommendations and guarantee their salaries. Generalized linear mixed models, path analysis structural equation, and conditional interference classification tree were performed to further understand how sociodemographic factors impact k’ and to establish a predictive model for the risk behavior of leaving home during the pandemic. We found that, on average, people tolerate 38% risk of infection to leave home and earn a full salary, but this number decreased to 13% when the individual risk perception of becoming ill from severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 is considered. Furthermore, participants who have a medium-to-high household income and who are older than 35 years are more likely to be part of the risk-taking group who leave home regardless of the potential COVID-19 infection level; while participants over 45 years old and with good financial health are more likely to be part of the risk-averse group, who stay home at the expense of any salary offered. Our findings add to the political and public debate concerning lockdown strategies by showing that, contrary to supposition, people with low socioeconomic status are not more likely to ignore social distancing recommendations due to personal economic matters.

PMID:33465121 | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0245261