In our last blog post, we presented evidence that questions simple narratives of young people as irresponsible and dismissive of COVID-19 risks and public health. In fact, many young adults actively engaged in numerous “hygiene” and “avoidance” behaviours to counter the pandemic between October 2020 till March 2021, which includes the second wave of infections in many countries. In this post, we focus on meeting and interacting with other people.
First, we pick out one specific counter-corona behaviour from the set discussed in the last post — avoiding large gatherings and long queues. We observe that young people are slightly less likely to do so than older people. As one might expect, avoiding such situations is most prevalent among the most senior members of society (93% among those aged 65 or over), but it is still quite common among young people. The absolute difference between age groups is fairly small. Among 18 to 25-year olds, 85% say that they avoid such situations.
A slightly different picture emerges when we analyse separate survey answers related to meeting friends and family. We observe that younger people meet significantly more friends and family members than older people. Those aged 35 or less met around six friends or family members in the week prior to completing the survey, although the youngest in our sample (ages 18-25: 5.8 on average) met fewer people than their slightly older peers (ages 26-35: 6.6 on average). This figure is substantially lower for older individuals, and down to just 4.1 among those aged 65 or over.
While meeting an additional 2 or 3 friends or family members per week may still seem like a fairly moderate difference, we also observe stark differences in keeping a physical distance during these meetings. While 76% of people above the age of 65 report maintaining a distance of at least two meters, this fraction gradually decreases for lower ages. Among those below the age of 26, only 38% report keeping such a distance.
Our findings emphasize a personal conflict of interest that many young people face. On the one hand, many people (of all ages) have a strong desire to socialize. Compared to older people, younger people appear to have a particularly high desire to meet with family and friends, and to interact more closely when they do, as one might expect. But at the same time, young people do also appear to be conscious of the risks of the disease and its spread, as we have seen from our data on avoidance of public gatherings and the full set of COVID-19 behaviours.