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July 2021

The impact of the pandemic on subjective wellbeing inequalities

The impact of the pandemic on subjective wellbeing inequalities
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The impact of the pandemic on subjective wellbeing inequalities

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic’s most visceral impact, serious illness and death, has been felt unequally by the UK population, and especially by those already disadvantaged.

At the time of writing, the age-standardised death rate in the most deprived decile of communities in England was 300 per 100,000. For the least deprived decile, it was 122. Ethnic minorities and frontline workers have also been more likely to suffer seriously from the illness. Although there does appear to be a tendency for the pandemic’s broader health, economic, social and environmental impacts to also have increased and entrenched existing inequalities, the picture is not entirely uniform. For example, while people with lower incomes were more likely to be furloughed or have their hours reduced during the pandemic, the overall effect of the pandemic and associated welfare measures has been to reduce income inequality in the UK.

Subjective Wellbeing aggregates most of these impacts into an overall effect (aside from death). Subjective wellbeing is affected by some of the more tangible direct impacts of the pandemic, such as income or employment losses, and illness, but also some of the more intangible social and psychological impacts such as loneliness, anxiety and loss of sense of purpose.

It has been a difficult 18 months for everyone to adjust to, but by looking at inequalities in the change in subjective wellbeing, we can identify which societal groups have been hardest hit in this overall sense. This is important for four reasons:

  1. It means taking seriously the non-tangible but devastating effects of the pandemic on people’s social and psychological lives.
  2. People with low or declining wellbeing should be a priority for both public policy and civil society.
  3. It is perceived declines in quality of life that shape people’s decisions or political attitudes, not ‘objective’ changes.
  4. Ensuring a fair recovery from the pandemic involves addressing inequalities in subjective wellbeing, alongside inequalities in objective factors.
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Data sources

Overall impact of the pandemic on subjective wellbeing

Inequalities in subjective wellbeing



You may also wish to read the blog article on this document.

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