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Behavioral changes during the COVID-19 pandemic decreased income diversity of urban encounters

Authors: Takahiro Yabe, Bernardo García Bulle Bueno, Xiaowen Dong, Alex Pentland & Esteban Moro
Publication: Nature Communications volume 14, Article number: 2310 (2023)

Abstract: Diversity of physical encounters in urban environments is known to spur economic productivity while also fostering social capital. However, mobility restrictions during the pandemic have forced people to reduce urban encounters, raising questions about the social implications of behavioral changes. In this paper, we study how individual income diversity of urban encounters changed during the pandemic, using a large-scale, privacy-enhanced mobility dataset of more than one million anonymized mobile phone users in Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Seattle, across three years spanning before and during the pandemic. We find that the diversity of urban encounters has substantially decreased (by 15% to 30%) during the pandemic and has persisted through late 2021, even though aggregated mobility metrics have recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Counterfactual analyses show that behavioral changes including lower willingness to explore new places further decreased the diversity of encounters in the long term. Our findings provide implications for managing the trade-off between the stringency of COVID-19 policies and the diversity of urban encounters as we move beyond the pandemic.



Esteban Moro

Professor at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid and MIT Medialab. Working on Complex Systems, Social Networks and Urban Science.