High Earners Are More Likely To Exhibit Coronavirus Anxiety, According To New Research

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Fear of Covid-19, much like the disease itself, is everywhere.

But it has been shown to appear in certain demographic groups more than others. For instance, researchers have found:

  • Women are more likely to express high Covid-19 anxiety than men
  • Liberals appear more concerned about Covid-19 than conservatives
  • People living in Asian countries have expressed more fear about Covid-19 than Westerners

What generalizations can be made about the association between income and Covid-19 anxiety? So far, the data has been mixed. But a new study conducted by a team of researchers at The Recovery Village, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation company, adds clarity to a murky research picture.

The study found Covid-19 anxiety to rise steadily with income. According to the data, 68% of people making less than $50,000 exhibited heightened levels of anxiety as a result of the pandemic, 78% of people making between $50,000 and $100,000 exhibited heightened levels of anxiety, and 87% of individuals making more than $100,000 showed increased levels of anxiety.

This was based on a survey of 500 representative adults in Florida, fielded between August 4th and August 15th, 2020.

“There has been some conflicting evidence regarding the association between income and anxiety as it relates to the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Stacey Henson, LCSW, ACSW of The Recovery Village. “One study by a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota found that high education and high income, the two defining features of socio-economic status (SES), were associated with greater declines in psychological well-being over the course of the pandemic. Another study by a group of Polish researchers found income to be unrelated to Covid-19 anxiety. Our research adds another data point to this important and ongoing thread of scientific inquiry.”

What makes this finding so interesting is that it runs in opposition to the actual threat of the disease.

“Studies so far have shown that low-income individuals and minority groups have a greater risk of contracting Covid-19,” says Henson. “They also have a higher mortality rate.”

What might account for this discrepancy? One obvious explanation has to do with the natural association between age and income. Higher income people tend to be older, and age has been shown to be a critical factor in the Covid-19 mortality equation.

But that doesn’t explain all of it. Scientists have also speculated that media exposure may play a role.

“It is possible that high income individuals exhibit more Covid-19 anxiety because they are absorbing more news related to the pandemic,” says Henson. “This may keep the threat top-of-mind for these people, causing them to perseverate on its negative consequences.”

Another possibility, according to the researchers, is that high income individuals have a stronger expectation for a constant availability of resources and therefore experience greater declines in well-being during times of crisis. This ties into the idea that high earners may have more to lose, financially, from the pandemic.

A fourth possibility has to do with the idea that low income households are more sensitized to the risk of Covid-19 because they represent a greater proportion of the frontline workers. Further research is needed to test the veracity of these claims.

Whatever the reason, the team at the Recovery Village reports some troubling statistics on alcohol and drug use as a means to cope with coronavirus-related stress. According to their study, 53% of high income respondents reported higher rates of past-month alcohol use. Middle and lower income individuals also showed an uptick in past-month alcohol use, but not to the same degree as high income individuals. High income individuals were also slightly less inclined to turn away from drugs such as prescription opioids, cocaine, and marijuana as a means of coping with their Covid-19 anxiety.

The researchers hope their work inspires more people of all socio-economic backgrounds to seek professional treatment for coronavirus-related stress.

“Many resources are available for people of all incomes and walks of life,” says Henson. “Our data suggest that approximately 35% of individuals are considering therapy as a means to manage their anxiety and other mental health issues. We hope these people follow through on getting the professional help they need, instead of self-medicating or ignoring the problem.”

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