Who is Actually Social Distancing (and Who’s Not)

Trendency-COVID19 Data Project feature

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It’s likely to be one of the defining catch phrases of 2020 – and when you ask people “are you social distancing?” most Americans claim their household is social distancing. There was, however, somewhat surprising responses around gender and race that we did not anticipate. Less surprising, younger Americans (those under 45) are the least likely to be practicing social distancing (82 percent). UPDATE: We were able to also see this data in a much more granular fashion by breaking down the racial demographic information further.

Since the middle of March, we have seen a dramatic drop in the number of Americans who are staying away from public venues and the percent who are avoiding physical contact with someone outside of their home. This is all good news, according to the health experts. However, there are still 13 percent, as a whole, who are visiting public venues (not counting essential places) and almost a third who are admitting to contract with people outside of their household.  

Almost a third (31 percent) of Americans that said they were practicing social distancing have had physical contact with someone outside their household.

Deeper Look: We asked two follow-up questions to find out if the terms seemed consistent:

  • Have you visited a public venue in the last 3 days?
  • Have you had physical contact with someone outside your household?

When we correspond Americans who said yes with either of our two statements with self-reported social distancing, we found that Americans are much more closely aligned with staying at home as part of social distancing practices, much more so than physical contact with individuals outside their house. 

Men, Younger Americans, and Americans of Color – Black and Hispanic, more specifically – are more likely to report venturing out into public, while Whites, older Americans (65+) and women are the least likely to say they go out in public.

Not surprisingly, rural Americans are much less likely to say they have gone to a public venue than those in urban areas.

While we saw some significant differences between cohorts when it comes to visiting public venues, there are minimal differences, when it comes to having physical contact with someone outside your household. The one exception are living areas where those in urban areas are more likely to report contact with non-household members than those in rural areas.

When we look at the cross-section of our three (3) questions, we see that 54 percent of the Americans that say they are social distancing, are staying out of public venues and have not had physical contact with someone outside their household.

Meanwhile, 25 percent are saying they are social distancing but have engaged in one of the two options. What we have left is approximately 14 percent that is not social distancing and another 6 percent that doesn’t know.

If we combine the responses to all of these questions, we find that currently, just 54 percent of Americans are reporting true social distancing behavior. An additional 31 percent say they are, but don’t seem to follow the guidelines of what social distancing would dictate and 8 percent are actively not social distancing.

When we look at a similar breakdown of our three questions by demographics, we find a familiar pattern, but a much better understanding of how groups are social distancing.

Unfortunately, there is not a single demographic cohort where more than two-thirds of members are practicing true social distancing.

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