COVID-19 lockdowns and demographically-relevant Google Trends: A cross-national analysis.

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From: PLoS ONE(Vol. 16, Issue 3)
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Document Type: Report
Length: 12,702 words
Lexile Measure: 1580L

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Abstract :

The spread of COVID-19 and resulting local and national lockdowns have a host of potential consequences for demographic trends. While impacts on mortality and, to some extent, short-term migration flows are beginning to be documented, it is too early to measure actual consequences for family demography. To gain insight into potential future consequences of the lockdown for family demography, we use cross-national Google Trends search data to explore whether trends in searches for words related to fertility, relationship formation, and relationship dissolution changed following lockdowns compared to average, pre-lockdown levels in Europe and the United States. Because lockdowns were not widely anticipated or simultaneous in timing or intensity, we exploit variability over time and between countries (and U.S. states). We use a panel event-study design and difference-in-differences methods, and account for seasonal trends and average country-level (or state-level) differences in searches. We find statistically significant impacts of lockdown timing on changes in searches for terms such as wedding and those related to condom use, emergency contraception, pregnancy tests, and abortion, but little evidence of changes in searches related to fertility. Impacts for union formation and dissolution tended to only be statistically significant at the start of a lockdown with a return to average-levels about 2 to 3 months after lockdown initiation, particularly in Europe. Compared to Europe, returns to average search levels were less evident for the U.S., even 2 to 3 months after lockdowns were introduced. This may be due to the fact, in the U.S., health and social policy responses were less demarcated than in Europe, such that economic uncertainty was likely of larger magnitude. Such pandemic-related economic uncertainty may therefore have the potential to slightly increase already existing polarization in family formation behaviours in the U.S. Alongside contributing to the wider literature on economic uncertainty and family behaviors, this paper also proposes strategies for efficient use of Google Trends data, such as making relative comparisons and testing sensitivity to outliers, and provides a template and cautions for their use in demographic research when actual demographic trends data are not yet available.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A655343561