Social well-being is highest in the richest states, in the north-east and west. But there is no obvious reason why some states have improved more than others. We found no correlation with covid-19 infections, the unemployment rate, or the outcome of the 2020 election. The states with the least severe lockdowns, as measured by another index from the University of Oxford, did tend to experience the biggest increases in social well-being (see right-hand chart). But the five states enjoying the greatest improvement—Maryland, Delaware, South Dakota, Alabama, and Minnesota—do not appear to have much in common.
Although the reason may be difficult to pin down, context and technology offer some clues. Amid the grief and devastation wrought by covid-19, Americans might have been more aware of their fortunes relative to others’. Indeed, a previous Sharecare survey carried out during the depths of lockdowns in April 2020 found that over one-third of Americans said they “felt grateful”. The same survey also found that 95% of Americans were using technology to stay in touch with others. Perhaps swapping empty office chatter and obligatory social engagements for fewer but more meaningful interactions—albeit done virtually—improved overall social well-being.
Some research suggests that after collective traumatic experiences, such as natural disasters, communities experience more social cohesion. During the pandemic, divisive disagreements over health issues such as the wearing of face masks cast doubt on such a theory. But the pandemic may have made Americans seek more support from friends, prompting an improvement in social well-being.
Read it all.