Whilst confirming previous studies stating that the virus spreads more easily in densely populated neighbourhoods, the study concluded that rich people are at higher risk of getting the virus – and concluded that this was due to their lifestyle.
This was the second part of EpiCoV, a study that aims to estimate the spread of Covid in France while taking into account different living conditions and what these mean for the risk of exposure. It was done in partnership by French national research institutes Inserm and Insee and the government agency Direction of research, studies, evaluation and statistics (DREES).
The full findings have not yet been published, but were revealed in the French daily Le Parisien.
Among the most eye-catching was the conclusion that country’s richest 10 percent were twice as likely to have had Covid-19 compared to those on lower incomes.
This probability increased further when compared to the poorest 10 percent, contradicting theories that people living in poorer areas comply less with Covid rules than the rest of the country.
France underwent two nationwide lockdowns with strict rules that limited physical movement and socialising outside the household for several months. But the richest 10 percent continued their social life even throughout these periods, according to the study.
“Bending rules perceived as minimal is easier (for the richest), but it increases the risk of infection,” Stéphane Legleye, co-author of the study and Insee researcher, told Le Parisien.
Legleye explained that the richest 10 percent had more occasions to socialise than the middle classes.
“The more you rise in social ranks, the more your social agenda expands,” she said.
Thanks to their relatively more spacious houses, these groups could also continue receiving friends at home as the outside world closed down, she said.
Another important factor was that rich people were likelier to have second homes, and would often seek refuge in these homes during lockdown, as seen in the exodus of 1 million people from Paris in the spring of 2020.
Legleye said this – accompanied by a generally more relaxed attitude towards the health rules – as something that “could promote potential outbreaks, a phenomenon that did not exist in more modest (households).”
The richest were also unlikely to be keyworkers – nurses, police officers, firemen and others – who had to go into work during lockdown.
These groups would typically be able to keep working from home during lockdown. However, the richest were likely to have a third party take care of their children when schools closed – a luxury many middle class families could not afford.
“Grandparents, friends, babysitters could have increased the risk of transmission,” Leglaye said.
He noted that the study had some methodological weaknesses, including that they had received more responses from wealthier people than those in poor situations.
To get a representative sample of the French population, the researchers pulled 12,400 people at random out of more than 135,000 respondents to an online call issued in May 2020. The selected group was representative for France at large, covering all départements of the mainland and overseas territories.
All of the 12,400 participants took a Covid serology test, to establish whether or not they had ever had the virus.