We know that COVID-19 mortality rates rise with age. But although the pandemic has huge implications for residents of all ages, there is much less news about generational differences in emotional, physical, and economic wellbeing.
So National Research Center (NRC) at Polco recently conducted nationwide, scientific surveys to study the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on US residents. The COVID-19 Resident Impact Survey reports experiences from a couple thousand Americans across the country and provides insights into how the nation has fared as a whole.
Analyzing COVID-related impacts by age, gender and region reveals some findings that may sound surprising. For instance, we see just how differently the pandemic affects older residents age 55+ versus adults age 35 and younger.
“The needs of younger adults will be different than older adults,” explained Vice President of National Engagement Matt Fulton. Previous to joining Polco/NRC, Fulton served residents as a city manager for more than 30 years. “Decisions relating to critical aspects of community life including economic opportunities, recreational programs, public safety, and socializing need to be considered for all age categories.”
Research findings like these can inform municipal leaders planning for recovery, engaging different age groups, and supporting their communities through these difficult times.
- Overall, older adults are faring the pandemic better than younger residents.
Overall, older adults rate most pandemic-related impacts on their household more positively than younger residents. Both baby boomers and millennials show similar impacts on their physical and economic health. But in this time of COVID, older households feel far better about their emotional and social health than younger households.
- Younger adults struggle most with feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
When compared to other age groups, younger residents are most likely to report problems with feeling alone, isolated and unable to exercise. Perhaps the result of suddenly changed lifestyles, younger people feel more nervous, anxious or on edge compared to older folks.
Other generations are not without their troubles too. Middle-aged residents (35-54) express problems helping children with online schooling. Both younger and middle-aged people note issues with a lack of childcare and loss of employment income. And older residents report problems with loss of retirement income.
Though every generation faces different challenges introduced by the pandemic, significant problems shared by households of every age group relate to loneliness and isolation. Overall, nearly half of the households surveyed report these struggles.
- Baby boomers and millennials generally turn to different sources of information, but all ages expect communication from local government.
When releasing community news and updates regarding COVID-19, government communicators should know what channels will best reach their various resident demographics. Notably, residents of all ages about equally rely on their local government website first and foremost for important information on COVID-19 in their community.
Senior Vice President of Innovation Michelle Kobayashi is an industry-leading expert behind the development of the COVID-19 impacts survey. She says these findings reflect resident expectations. “Now more than ever, community leaders are being asked to make tough choices that involve trading off the quality of life and interests of various community segments.”
Local governments, for example, have had to stunt normal economic growth (mandating shutdowns and limitations that often are not business-friendly) in efforts to limit the spread of the virus. But extended closures can present economic shortfalls and income-related problems to working residents who are nowhere near retirement.
And while social distancing rules prevent younger folks from gathering as much as they would like, these policies protect the health of older adults who tend to experience COVID symptoms more severely.
“People want to know how local policies will impact their day-to-day lives. We also find that residents from different walks of life want leaders to understand how they experience the pandemic and the decisions made, so that the courses set may be the best for them,” Kobayashi added.
Local government websites aside, bigger differences lie with other mediums. Older residents report greater use of traditional outlets including radio, television, and newspapers. More of them also subscribe to city e-newsletters and emails. Younger residents are more likely to seek information from social media, emails from organizations like schools and employers, and in some cases – word of mouth. Regarding how informed residents are about COVID-19, all generations report fairly similar levels of knowledge on most topics.
NRC research also shows local government leadership and communication in this time are essential to community members. Combined, residents rate local government response to COVID-19 at the highest level, compared to state and federal government.
“This pandemic gives us all a tremendous reminder of how important a role local government plays in developing the best quality of life for everyone,” Matt Fulton said.
National Research Center is the survey science branch of Polco. Polco connects leaders with resident input in ways that can inspire change. Polco offers a gold-standard suite of national benchmark surveys and online civic engagement services to deliver insights local governments can rely on. For more articles like this, subscribe to their monthly newsletter, The Civil Review.