Young people least concerned about COVID-19

A report from Angus Reid and Sid Lee shows how behaviour and the kinds of messages people listen to vary by age group.

Despite spiking to more than 6,300 cases nationally, only 28% of 18 to 24-year-old Canadians see COVID-19 as a serious risk to themselves and 15% as a risk to their friends.

That’s according to a new report from creative agency Sid Lee, which partnered with research firm Angus Reid, to survey 919 Canadians to better understand their behaviours and attitudes as they relate to the pandemic.

Concern about the pandemic seems to correlate with age: 56% of all Canadians see COVID-19 as a risk to themselves, but goes up to 76% by the time the survey results reach those over 65.

A lack of concern by younger people also seems to translates to lack of adaptation. The survey results show that 57% of those aged 18-24 have “frequently or occasionally had physical contact with others since March 13,” with only 23% believing that social distancing “is the only way we’ll beat this pandemic” (compared to 51% of all Canadians who said the same). The biggest barrier in changing the behaviour of young people, the results suggest, is the need for human interaction: 57% believe social distancing “needs to be balanced with a health social life,” 1.5 times the overall sentiment of all Canadians.

But the age group that claims it’s most concerned they or someone they know will contract COVID-19 (35 to 44 year-olds), is hardly playing by the rules either, with 40% frequently or occasionally having physical contact with others during that same timeframe (the most physical distance-compliant group, at 20%, is the 65-and-over set, which may not necessarily be by choice).

Matt Foulk, EVP of strategy at Sid Lee Toronto, says when the research was first commissioned in early March, it was the boomers who weren’t taking the pandemic seriously, but that sentiment moved to the 18-24 group by March 19. What both groups had in common was resistance to disrupting social routines: “It’s fascinating to see two groups unified by how blasé they both were about COVID-19.”

Foulk finds the younger set’s resistance towards social distancing is translating to shopping behaviour as well, as approximately 26% of the age group has not changed how often they shop for grocery, entertainment or household goods, compared with under 20% of all Canadians across each category.

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So why are younger people not getting the message? It could be because of a big divide in how demographics engage with media. According to the survey, younger demographics are putting greater trust in international health organizations than family and local government. This could lead to younger people seeing it as more of a “global” problem than something to deal with at home, or messages about to stop the spread – or the risk of young people spreading it to more vulnerable parts of the population – not being a part of the messages they are seeing.

Foulk says that this more global outlook could be a proxy for large international brand trust as well, but more studies are required to see if this is borne out. In the meantime, when communicating persuasively with the younger set, Foulk says, these messages have to come from the top, global stars, global organizations and global brands rather than smaller or grassroots sources, he says.

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Attitude also has a role in how seriously Canadians are taking the pandemic. Among the two-thirds of Canadians who believe they “know more than the average person” about how to behave during the pandemic, 35% said social distancing needs to be balanced with a social life. Among the roughly one-third that believe they know an average amount, that number jumps to 49%.

When it comes to geographic breakdown, Quebecers, by contrast, trust local government more. According to the numbers, 51% of people from Quebec trust their local government for COVID-19 advice vs 31% of people from the rest of Canada. As numbers in Ontario continue to climb, this could change. Quebeckers are also taking COVID-19 risks more seriously on average than the rest of the country (65% vs 54%).