Six months on from The World Health Organization officially declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic, a new global poll conducted for the BBC World Service shows that the impact of the pandemic has had a more severe impact on people in poorer countries and has exacerbated existing inequalities both within and across countries. Gen Z have also disproportionately experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.
The poll of 27 countries was conducted by GlobeScan in June 2020 during the height of the pandemic for many. In total, more than 27,000 people around the world were surveyed about COVID-19 and the impact it has had on their lives. Key findings include the following:
- Nearly six in ten people (57%) say they have been affected financially by the impacts of the coronavirus, with those in non-OECD member countries much more likely to have had their income affected due to the pandemic (69%) compared to those living in OECD countries (45%).
- Overall, people with lower incomes are most likely to have seen changes to their family income (60% versus 57% of average wage earners and 56% of high earners). Gen Z (63%) have also disproportionately experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.
- While there is little difference overall in terms of the reported physical impact of the pandemic by gender, women report higher levels of direct financial impact than men, with greatest disparities reported in Germany (32% of women vs 24% of men), Italy (50% vs 43%), and the UK (45% vs 38%).
- Only a minority (5%) say that they themselves, or someone in their family, have been sick or diagnosed with the virus, but relatively few (39%) have been left unscathed by either direct physical or financial impact.
- Parents also feel greater impacts from the pandemic (57% feel greatly affected personally versus 41% of people without children).
- In the USA, people who identify as Black report twice the level of having been infected by the virus or having had a family member infected compared to those identifying as White (14% versus 7%, respectively).
- Those who have felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic more strongly are more likely to desire a restructured economy, such as Gen Zs (62%) and low-income earners (58%).
People in Latin America, Asia, and Africa are more likely to say they have experienced considerable impacts from the virus, particularly those in Indonesia (74%), Turkey (74%), Mexico (73%), and Kenya (71%). North American and European residents are the least likely to feel impacted by the coronavirus, even though the USA is experiencing the largest number of cases in the world. Around a third of UK (34%) and US (36%) respondents say they personally have been greatly affected by the pandemic.
When comparing 16 different global issues covering socio-economic, environmental, and political topics, it is unsurprising that people view the coronavirus pandemic as the most serious problem currently facing the world. Sixty-eight percent of people believe that the pandemic is “very serious,” followed closely by the spread of human diseases (62%) more generally. The pandemic is currently viewed as a more serious problem compared to issues like climate change (60%), extreme poverty (57%), waste from single-use plastic (55%), and unemployment (53%). It is notable, however, that climate change remains near the top of the global public’s agenda despite the pandemic having touched so many personal lives.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is the most influential issue on average, there are some notable differences among countries. Argentinians are more likely to feel affected by the recession than the pandemic, while people in Australia, Italy, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, and Thailand feel almost equally affected by the pandemic and the recession.
It is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people’s lives in a myriad of ways. When focussing on health and economic impacts, the survey reveals that few (39%) have been left unscathed by either of these elements.
Findings suggest there is a link between a nation’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and the impact on its population. Those who report lower levels of impact from the pandemic tend to live in countries that responded quickly or robustly such as Australia, Canada, Germany, and Sweden. In general, OECD member countries are less likely than non-member countries to feel greater impacts from the pandemic (41% versus 57% respectively say they have been greatly affected personally). Of the 27 countries surveyed, those living in Germany are the least affected – only 13 percent feel their lives have been greatly affected by the pandemic, while a quarter (26%) say it has not affected them at all.
Not only have they seen greater overall impacts, but people in non-OECD member countries are also more likely to have had their income affected due to the pandemic (69%) compared to those living in OECD countries (45%). People in Kenya (91%), Thailand (81%), Nigeria (80%), South Africa (77%), Indonesia (76%), and Vietnam (74%) are the most likely to have been affected financially. Mexico (79%) is the OECD member country with the largest proportion of residents impacted financially. Those in North America and Europe are less likely to have experienced physical or financial fallout from the pandemic.
Reflecting the OECD average, 42 percent of people in the UK and 45 percent in the US have seen changes to their incomes during the pandemic. People in Germany (69%), France (68%), Sweden (63%), and Japan (62%) are the most likely to not have felt physical or financial impacts.
Along with overall wealth at the country level, income differences within countries also reveal people’s experience of the pandemic. There is a divide that shows those at either end of the scale, with high (51%) or low (52%) incomes for their country are more likely to say they personally have been greatly affected by the pandemic than those with average (47%) income levels. People with lower incomes are most likely to have seen changes to their family income (60% versus 57% of average wage earners and 56% of high earners).
Bucking the overall trend, however, people with high incomes in Australia, Canada, Japan, Russia, and the UK are more likely to have experienced financial impacts during the pandemic than those earning the least. Forty-seven percent of high-income earners in the UK have seen their family’s income change, compared to 38 percent on low incomes.
The poll shows that the pandemic has affected certain demographics more than others. In several countries, especially in Europe, women are more likely than men to say they have been greatly impacted by the pandemic. Women in France (42% greatly affected vs 36% of men), India (59% vs 50%), Indonesia (77% vs 70%), Italy (55% vs 42%), Russia (48% vs 41%), Spain (54% vs 49%), Sweden (36% vs 27%), Turkey (77% vs 72%), and the UK (36% vs 31%) are all more likely than men in their country to feel they have been personally affected to a great extent.
With school closures, online learning, and childcare dilemmas, it is understandable that parents also feel greater impacts from the pandemic (57% feel greatly affected personally versus 41% of people without children). Perhaps reflecting changing work patterns to assist with childcare, 66 percent of parents have also found themselves enduring income changes. Those without children are less likely to be affected either physically or financially (49% say they did not encounter either of these problems).
The impact of the pandemic also appears to have been less prevalent with age. Despite higher mortality rates among the elderly, younger generations are more likely to feel the effects than older generations – perhaps due to stronger levels of disruption to education, employment, and social activities among the younger generations. Fifty-five percent of Gen Z respondents and 56 percent of Millennials feel that the pandemic has greatly affected their lives, in contrast to just under half of Gen Xs (49%) and nearly four in ten Baby Boomers and older (39%).
Financial hardship is more prevalent among Gen Z (63% saw a change to their income) and Millennials (65%) compared to those further along in their career paths (Gen X with 59%, and Baby Boomers and older at 42% who say their incomes were affected). Older generations are more likely to have escaped physical or financial harm – 56 percent of Baby Boomers and older report no physical or financial impacts, compared to 39 percent on average globally.
While there is little overall difference in terms of reported physical impact between women and men, in several countries women report higher levels of direct financial impact, including Australia (44% of women saw a change to their income vs 38% of men), Canada (44% vs 39%), Germany (32% vs 24%), Italy (50% vs 43%), Japan (38% vs 32%), Russia (64% vs 59%), Sweden (33% vs 28%), and the UK (45% vs 38%). In China and Vietnam, men instead tend to report higher levels of financial impact, with 59 percent of men in China reporting a change to their income vs 52 percent of women, and in Vietnam 81 percent of men vs 67 percent of women.
In the USA, people who identify as Black report twice the level of having been infected by the virus or having had a family member infected compared to those identifying as White (14% versus 7%, respectively). In terms of economic impact, Americans who identify as Hispanic (50%) or Asian (58%) are more likely than the US average (45%) to say they have felt a direct financial impact by having had their family’s income affected. Hispanic (50%) and Asian Americans (52%) are also more likely than the US average (36%) to feel that the pandemic has greatly affected their lives overall. White Americans are the least likely to say that they have been greatly affected (33%) while Black Americans are more likely to have been greatly affected (41%).
When asked about thoughts on the post-COVID economic recovery and what should be prioritised, over half of respondents (55%) feel that economic systems need to be restructured to withstand current and future challenges. European (61%), African (68%), and Latin American (72%) countries, on average, tend to agree that the post-COVID economic recovery should incorporate restructuring to deal better with other challenges such as climate change and inequality. However, people in Asian countries are more likely to favour an economy that returns to pre-COVID status as soon as possible (58%). North American views tend to be close to the global average when it comes to returning the economy to its previous state (47% versus 45%, respectively).
Those who have felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic more strongly are more likely to desire a restructured economy, such as Gen Zs (62%) and low-income earners (58%). On the other hand, those who have been impacted less are more likely to favour an economic recovery that returns to its original state. Almost half of Gen Xs (48%), Baby Boomers and older (46%), and those with high incomes (48%) would like to see the priority placed on economies returning back to normal compared to just 38 percent of Gen Zs and 42 percent of low-income earners. However, those with children also tend to be more in favour of getting the economy back to normal (47%) than those with no children (43%). In the USA, those who identify as White tend to prefer a return to normal (55%), while Black (57%), Hispanic (52%), and Asian Americans (55%) are more likely to say that they would like to see a restructured economy.
- Gen Z: people born from 1997 onwards (ages 18 to 23 in 2020 for the purposes of this study as only those aged 18+ were surveyed)
- Millennials: people born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 24 to 39 in 2020)
- Gen X: people born between 1965 and 1980 (ages 40 to 55 in 2020)
- Baby Boomer and older: people born in 1964 or earlier (ages 56 and above in 2020)
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For each of the following possible global problems, please indicate if you see it as a very serious, somewhat serious, not very serious or not at all serious problem.
- The spread of human diseases
- Extreme poverty in the world
- The loss of animal and plant species
- The state of the global economy
- Mental health problems
- The gap between rich and poor
- Unequal treatment of women
- Shortages of fresh water
- Single-use plastic waste in the environment
- Climate change or global warming
- Air pollution in general
- The depletion of natural resources, such as forests, farmland and fish
- Online data security and privacy
- Social and political division in my country
- The coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic
How much are you personally affected by each of the following problems?
- The economic recession
- Climate change or global warming
- The coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic
How would you describe how you may have been personally affected by the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic? Please select all that apply to you.
- I or family members have been sick or diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus
- My family’s income has been affected
- My life has not been affected in these ways
In building the post-COVID-19 economic recovery, do you think the priority should be on:
- Getting our economy back to normal as soon as possible
- Restructuring our economy so it deals better with other challenges like inequality and climate change as well