Working Paper

Exposure to the Covid-19 Pandemic and Generosity in Southern Spain


The Covid-19 pandemicis having dramatic consequences across the world and has generated a public debate about how exposure to a pandemic environment affects social behavior: a long with signs of increased solidarity such as people hand-making masks for others, we also observe selfish and antisocial behaviors such as harnessing of essential goods. This is a key question because prosocial behaviors are necessary to cope successfully with the pandemic, but the existing evidence provides no clear prediction regarding how prosociality adapts during such a negative shock. Using data from an online experiment with ~1k participants from southern Spain, we study how social behavior evolved in a six-day period in which Covid-19-associated deaths in Spain increased from 900 to above 3000. In our experiment, participants could earn lottery tickets for a €100-prize and decided whether to donate a fraction to a charity upon winning. We find that actual donations decreased in the period under study, particularly among older people —those who face higher mortality rates. Gender, another determinant of Covid-19-associated mortality, does not predict the decrease.
In addition, while self-reported social concerns did not change in the same period, expectations about others’ donations decreased along with actual donations. The data suggest that expectations partially mediate the effect of exposure on behavioral change, but they cannot account for the effect of age. Since age is at the center of public debate about mortality while gender receives considerably less attention, our results point to the potential role of public information in behavioral adaptation.

Keywords: beliefs, donations, experiments, exposure to Covid-19, generosity, mortality