Abstract: Coping with Covid-19: Implications of Differences in Resilience across Racial Groups for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Social Distancing Behaviors (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Coping with Covid-19: Implications of Differences in Resilience across Racial Groups for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Social Distancing Behaviors

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 14, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Carol Graham, PhD, Leo Pasvolsky Senior Fellow and Research Director, The Brookings Institution, Washington DC, MD
Yung Chun, PhD, Data Analyst III, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Stephen Roll, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, St Louis, MO
Barton H. Hamilton, PhD, Robert Brookings Smith Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Will Ross, MD, Professor of Medicine, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Michal Grinstein-Weiss, PhD, Shanti K Khinduka Distinguished Professor, Social Policy Institute, Washington University in St Louis, Saint Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: Research has well established that low-wage workers and minorities in the United States are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 from both greater exposure in their jobs and inferior access to quality health care. The disparities experienced by these vulnerable groups have resulted in significantly higher COVID-related death rates. A lesser-known vulnerability is the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic has affected vulnerable populations’ mental health and behaviors. This study explored the intersection of social and economic factors that influence individual’s COVID-19 resilience and health behaviors.

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.