Language and the cultural markers of COVID-19

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Despite its universal nature, the impact of COVID-19 has not been geographically homogeneous. While certain countries and regions have been severely affected, registering record infection rates and excess deaths, others experienced only milder outbreaks. We investigate to what extent human factors, in particular cultural origins reflected in different attitudes and behavioural norms, can explain different degrees of exposure to the virus. Motivated by the linguistic relativity hypothesis, we take language as a proxy for cultural origins and exploit the exogenous variation in the language spoken around the border that divides the French- and German-speaking parts of Switzerland to estimate the impact of culture on exposure to COVID-19. The results obtained using a spatial regression discontinuity design reveal, that within 50- and 25- kilometres bandwidth from the language border, the average COVID-19 exposure levels for individuals in French speaking municipalities was higher. In particular, we find that German speaking municipalities were associated with a reduction of around 40% - 50% in the odds of COVID-19 exposure compared to the French speaking municipalities.

Neha Deopa