COVID-19 and Intergenerational Conflict

Speaker: Catherine De Vries

Bocconi University

Abstract: In order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the absence of a vaccine, governments around the globe have resorted to non-pharmaceutical interventions,  such as physical distancing, quarantining and lockdowns.  While these measures have sound epidemiological foundations, they have brought generational tensions to the fore.  COVID-19 poses a significantly higher risk to the elderly, yet non-pharmaceutical interventions and associated economic ramifications place a heavier burden on younger generations.  In this paper we ask two questions:  (1) To what extent do differences in the demographic age structure across advanced industrial societies structure intergenerational conflict? (2) And to what extent do the trade-offs involved with non-pharmaceutical interventions relate to the COVID-19 pandemic accelerate conflict between generations? To answer these questions, we have built a large cross-national dataset linking countries' demographic age structure to intergenerational tension and combined it with evidence from survey experiments in Italy and the Netherlands, two countries that were both severely affected by the pandemic, but provide starkly contrasting contexts when it comes to public policy and spending directed at younger and older generations.

[joint paper with Paula Rettl and Franceso C. Billari]

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