Socioeconomic Status and Well-Being During COVID-19

A Resource-Based Examination

Published in: Journal of Applied Psychology (2020). doi: 10.1037/apl0000831

Posted on RAND.org on October 28, 2020

by Connie R. Wanberg, Borbala Csillag, Richard P. Douglass, Le Zhou, Michael S. Pollard

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The authors assess levels and within-person changes in psychological well-being (i.e., depressive symptoms and life satisfaction) from before to during the COVID-19 pandemic for individuals in the United States, in general and by socioeconomic status (SES). The data is from 2 surveys of 1,143 adults from RAND Corporation's nationally representative American Life Panel, the first administered between April–June, 2019 and the second during the initial peak of the pandemic in the United States in April, 2020. Depressive symptoms during the pandemic were higher than population norms before the pandemic. Depressive symptoms increased from before to during COVID-19 and life satisfaction decreased. Individuals with higher education experienced a greater increase in depressive symptoms and a greater decrease in life satisfaction from before to during COVID-19 in comparison to those with lower education. Supplemental analysis illustrates that income had a curvilinear relationship with changes in well-being, such that individuals at the highest levels of income experienced a greater decrease in life satisfaction from before to during COVID-19 than individuals with lower levels of income. We draw on conservation of resources theory and the theory of fundamental social causes to examine four key mechanisms (perceived financial resources, perceived control, interpersonal resources, and COVID-19-related knowledge/news consumption) underlying the relationship between SES and well-being during COVID-19. These resources explained changes in well-being for the sample as a whole but did not provide insight into why individuals of higher education experienced a greater decline in well-being from before to during COVID-19.

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