The Pandemic Has Caused a Steep Decline in Living Standards

Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak
February 11, 2021

New research conducted by Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, a professor of economics and director of the Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale, and an international group of colleagues, shows how COVID-19 has caused a steep decline in living standards. The study, published on February 5 in Science Advances, features quantitative evidence from nine developing countries, and was recently showcased in Scientific American.


Despite numerous journalistic accounts, systematic quantitative evidence on economic conditions during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic remains scarce for most low- and middle-income countries, partly due to limitations of official economic statistics in environments with large informal sectors and subsistence agriculture. We assemble evidence from over 30,000 respondents in 16 original household surveys from nine countries in Africa (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone), Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Philippines), and Latin America (Colombia). We document declines in employment and income in all settings beginning March 2020. The share of households experiencing an income drop ranges from 8 to 87% (median, 68%). Household coping strategies and government assistance were insufficient to sustain precrisis living standards, resulting in widespread food insecurity and dire economic conditions even 3 months into the crisis. We discuss promising policy responses and speculate about the risk of persistent adverse effects, especially among children and other vulnerable groups.