Surviving Together: social cohesion and Covid-19 across the world

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Studies on the determinants of the spread and mortality of COVID-19 indicate that the quality of health care systems and government type and capacity have a negligent role in explaining the variation of infection and death rates between countries. Studies therefore suggest a role for societal factors, in particular social capital and social cohesion as mitigating factors in control of epidemics. But the measures for these vary widely, which could include indicators that refer to politics, governance, or institutions. In this paper, we distinguish social cohesion from social capital and argue that, by its concern with the common good and relationships between social groups, the former captures the societal influence on the pandemic better than the latter. We test the hypotheses that countries with higher levels of social cohesion have lower levels of COVID-19 infection as well as death rates. We do this by analyzing the role of social cohesion in the spread and mortality of COVID-19 in a cross-country analysis with a comprehensive index and two sub-indices of social cohesion. The three indices used allow for a much larger group of countries (between 116 and 138, depending on the model variation) to be included than in previous studies by others. Moreover, they enable us to study the pathways through which social
cohesion is likely to affect COVID-19 outcomes.
Contrary to the recent empirical literature we find robust relationships, specifically for the intergroup level of social cohesion. The results are particularly strong for medium-income countries. Our findings suggest that more cohesive societies, especially those with less divisiveness between social groups, may be better equipped to reduce the impact of a pandemic, irrespective of the quality of the health care system and government type and capacity. This implies that divisiveness has not only political costs but serious public health
costs as well.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDen Haag
PublisherInternational Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
Number of pages36
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022

Publication series

SeriesIndices of Social Development


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