Pandemics, Poverty, and Social Cohesion: Lessons from the Past and Possible Solutions for COVID-19

June 2020

Remi Jedwab (George Washington University), Amjad M. Khan (The World Bank),Richard Damania (The World Bank), Jason Russ (The World Bank), Esha D. Zaveri (The World Bank)

IIEP working paper 2020-13

Abstract: Since COVID-19 broke out, there has been renewed interest in understanding the economic and social dynamics of historical and more recent pandemics and epidemics, from the plagues of Antiquity to modern-day outbreaks like Ebola. These events can have significant impacts on the interplay between poverty and social cohesion, i.e. how different groups in society interact and cooperate to survive and prosper. To that effect, this survey paper provides an overview of how social responses to past pandemics and epidemics were determined by the epidemiological and non-epidemiological characteristics of these outbreaks, with a particular focus on the scapegoating and persecution of minority groups, including migrants. More precisely, we discuss existing theories as well as historical and quantitative studies, and highlight the cases and contexts where pandemics may lead to milder or more severe forms of scapegoating. Finally, we conclude with a summary of priorities for future research on pandemics and social cohesion and discuss the possible effects and policy implications of COVID-19.


JEL Codes: O15, O18, I15, I19, J61, J71

Key Words: COVID-19; Pandemics; Epidemics; Disasters; Social Cohesion; Stigmatization; Minority Persecution; Conflict; Poverty; Migration; Social Capital; Trust

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