Economics Working Papers

Publication Date

8-15-2020

Number

20016

Abstract

This paper offers a parsimonious, rational-choice model to study the effect of pre-existing inequalities on the transmission of COVID-19. Agents decide whether to "go out" (or self-quarantine) and, if so, whether to wear protection such as masks. Three elements distinguish the model from existing work. First, non-symptomatic agents do not know if they are infected. Second, some of these agents unknowingly transmit infections. Third, we permit two-sided prevention via the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions: the probability of a person catching the virus from another depends on protection choices made by each. We find that a mean-preserving increase in pre-existing income inequality unambiguously increases the equilibrium proportion of unprotected, socializing agents and may increase or decrease the proportion who self-quarantine. Strikingly, while higher pre-COVID inequality may or may not raise the overall risk of infection, it increases the risk of disease in social interactions.

JEL Classification

I14, I18, D1, O12

Version History

Original Release Date: August 15, 2020

Departments

Department of Economics, Iowa State University

File Format

application/pdf

Length

32 pages

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