Connie Wanberg

U.S. Adults Say COVID-19 Negatively Affected Their Well-Being

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Symptoms of depression are up and life satisfaction is down for U.S. adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study by Carlson School researchers from the Department of Work and Organizations. The examination of nationwide data also found that an individual’s socioeconomic status—their income and education —play an important factor in their own sense of well-being.

The research, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, compared self-reported data from a nationally representative sample of individuals before the pandemic in 2019 and again in April 2020. By that time, many states had initiated a series of public health strategies aimed at mitigating the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including restrictions on social gatherings and movement. It was also when the U.S. began seeing a significant downtown in the stock market.

Betty Zhou
(ABOVE) Le (Betty) Zhou, Assistant Professor (TOP) Connie Wanberg, Industrial Relations Faculty Excellence Chair

During the first peak of the pandemic in April 2020, the study found that:

  • across all socioeconomic categories, depressive symptoms increased and life satisfaction decreased;
  • those with higher incomes reported relatively fewer depressive symptoms and higher levels of life satisfaction during the pandemic; and
  • individuals with higher educational attainment reported a significantly larger increase in depressive symptoms and a sharper decline in life satisfaction.

“A higher income, for some, can provide a person some level of protection from a decline in mental health during a crisis like we are experiencing,” says study co-author Connie Wanberg, the Industrial Relations Faculty Excellence Chair. “However, we were unable to determine why people with more education had their well-being affected so much more significantly than others.”

The study further found that respondents' assessment of their own knowledge about COVID-19 contributed to less decrease in life satisfaction. Due to this, researchers state the perception of having more COVID-19 knowledge isn't a viable explanation for why those with more education experienced a larger decline in well-being. Additionally, researchers found that educational attainment was not associated with job loss due to COVID-19.

“We ultimately speculated that people with more education may be used to having more psychological and material resources available, and report sharper well-being declines when these are threatened,” said co-author and Carlson School Ph.D. student Bori Csillag.  

Taken together, these findings showcase COVID-19’s impact is felt by all people.

“It is affecting people’s well-being, no matter their socioeconomic status,” says study co-author Betty Zhou, an associate professor in the Carlson School of Management. “There is a possibility that a further decline in well-being may have occurred since our initial research too.”

This article appeared in the Fall 2020 Discovery magazine

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Carlson School faculty experts researched a myriad of aspects of the pandemic in real time. In this edition, you'll see how state and local governments dealt with the economic downturn, how that economic anxiety was worse for some individuals and groups than others, and how the Supply Chain and Operations Department shifted its research agendas and curriculum to help educate policymakers, media, and the public on how to address these issues.

Fall 2020 table of contents