IZA Discussion Paper No. 13943

The Health-Wealth Trade-off during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Communication Matters

How do people balance health/wealth concerns during a pandemic? And, how does the communication of this trade-off affect individual preferences? We address these questions using a field experiment involving around 2000 students enrolled in a large university in Italy. We design four treatments where the trade-off is communicated using different combinations of a positive framing that focuses on protective strategies and a negative framing which refers to potential costs. We find that positive framing on the health side induces individuals to give greater relevance to the health dimension. The effect is sizeable and highly effective among many different audiences, especially females. Importantly, this triggers a higher level of intention to adhere to social distancing and precautionary behaviors. Moreover, irrespective of the framing, we find a large heterogeneity in students’ preferences over the trade-off. Economics students and students who have directly experienced the economic impact of the pandemic are found to favor wealth-centered policies.

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