Research

Japan’s Voluntary Lockdown: Further Evidence Based on Age-Specific Mobile Location Data

Author

Abstract

Changes in people’s behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic can be regarded as the result of two types of effects: the “intervention effect” (changes resulting from government orders or requests for people to change their behavior) and the “information effect” (voluntary changes in people’s behavior based on information about the pandemic). Using mobile location data to construct a stay-at-home measure for different age groups, we examine how the intervention and information effects differ across age groups. Our main findings are as follows. First, the age profile of the intervention effect of the state of emergency declaration in April and May 2020 shows that the degree to which people refrained from going out was smaller for older age groups, who are at a higher risk of serious illness and death, than for younger age groups. Second, the age profile of the information effect shows that, unlike the intervention effect, the degree to which people stayed at home tended to increase with age for weekends and holidays. Thus, while Acemoglu et al. (2020) proposed targeted lockdowns requiring stricter lockdown policies for the oldest group in order to protect those at a high risk of serious illness and death, our findings suggest that Japan’s government intervention had a very different effect in that it primarily reduced outings by the young, and what led to the quarantining of older groups at higher risk instead was people’s voluntary response to information about the pandemic. Third, the information effect has been on a downward trend since the summer of 2020. While this trend applies to all age groups, it is relatively more pronounced among the young, so that the age profile of the information effect remains upward sloping, suggesting that people’s response to information about the pandemic is commensurate with their risk of serious illness and death.

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