The Effects of COVID-19 and Socioeconomic Status on Well-Being

woman with a mask
Topic(s): health and safety, stress, wellness
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2020)
Article: Socioeconomic Status and Well-Being During COVID-19: A Resource Based Examination
Authors: C.R. Wanberg, B. Csillag, R.P. Douglass, L. Zhou, M.S. Pollard
Reviewed by: Josie Anker

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. In addition to posing a major health threat, the pandemic has also had a strong influence on the economy. Such abrupt, major change, coupled with uncertainty surrounding the future, has the potential to damage psychological well-being.

Furthermore, there are large disparities in life and health outcomes between individuals of high versus low socioeconomic status (SES). Socioeconomic status refers to one’s social or economic position relative to that of others. Large socioeconomic inequalities could suggest that the pandemic may differentially impact the well-being of people depending on their SES. 


New research (Wanberg et al., 2020) examines how levels of psychological well-being have changed during COVID-19. The authors used data from a survey that was administered to a large, nationally representative sample during the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US (April, 2020) and one year prior (April-June, 2019).

The researchers compared levels of well-being during the pandemic to previously established norms from before the pandemic, and also compared data collected from the same individuals prior to COVID-19 and during COVID-19. The results suggest that psychological well-being has become lower during COVID-19 compared to before, and has also decreased within individuals from before to during COVID-19.


Additionally, the authors examined how two indicators of SES, education level and income, may influence these results. Contrary to what they predicted, they found that higher education was associated with greater decreases in well-being during the pandemic (indicated by a stronger increase in depressive symptoms and decrease in life satisfaction). On the other hand, higher income was associated with better well-being during the pandemic (indicated by lower depressive symptoms and higher life satisfaction). However, individuals with the highest levels of income did have larger reductions in life satisfaction from before to during the pandemic, compared to individuals with lower levels of income.


The results of this study suggest that people are experiencing lower well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to before the pandemic. Additionally, declines in well-being from before to during the pandemic were worse for individuals with higher levels of education compared to individuals with lower levels of education. While lower income was generally associated with inferior well-being, individuals with the highest income levels experienced greater declines in life satisfaction from before to during the pandemic compared to individuals with lower income levels.

Organizations should try to understand the unique effects that the pandemic has had on their employees’ well-being and consider offering services or training to support their employees during this difficult time.

Wanberg, C. R., Csillag, B., Douglass, R. P., Zhou, L., & Pollard, M. S. (2020). Socioeconomic status and well-being during COVID-19: A resource-based examination. Journal of Applied Psychology, 105(12), 1382-1396.