Methods: We used four waves of data from the Socio-Economic Impacts of Covid-19 Survey, administered in 2020 from late April to early May (Wave 1), late August (Wave 2), November (Wave 3), and in 2021 from March through April (Wave 4). Each survey wave was administered to large nationally representative samples of at least 5,000 respondents. Using a series of econometric models, we investigated the relationship between how well individuals were coping with the pandemic and their mental well-being, and examined the ways in which fear of COVID-19 influenced health behaviors of non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black, and Hispanic respondents (hereafter White, Black, and Hispanic).
Results: Our surveys revealed some surprising findings. First, we found higher resilience among racial/ethnic minorities throughout the pandemic, which was documented using respondents’ self-reported levels of mental health and well-being. Second, we found complex patterns in the relationship between race/ethnicity and behavioral responses to COVID-19. For example, over the four survey waves, White respondents exhibited lower levels of COVID-19 related concerns than either Black or Hispanic respondents. These patterns were somewhat associated with respondents’ social distancing behaviors at the beginning of the pandemic; across all income levels, White respondents were less likely to wear masks than Hispanic respondents. Although Black respondents exhibited a lower propensity to avoid social gatherings, that trend was partly related to their jobs that required their physical presence at the workplace. As compared to other race/ethnic groups, Black respondents were less likely to report they would inform others if they began to experience COVID-19 symptoms. Over the study period, racial/ethnic differences in social distancing behaviors narrowed. Last, Black respondents reported higher resilience than other groups, particularly White respondents, with resilience measured as self-reported better life satisfaction and optimism and better mental health. Notably, the greatest differences in resilience levels were found between low-income Blacks and Whites. These trends remained stable throughout the study period.
Conclusions and Implications: Despite extreme disparities in income and health outcomes before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, Blacks and Hispanics have remained more resilient and optimistic than their white counterparts. Moreover, the greatest differences in resilience, optimism, and mental health were found between low-income Blacks and low-income Whites. These deep differences in resilience have implications for the long-term mental health of different population groups in the face of a crisis. Better understanding these dynamics can provide lessons on ways of preserving and maintaining mental health in the face of public health and other large-scale crises.