By Barbara Prainsack, Bernhard Kittel, Sylvia Kritzinger, and Hajo Boomgaarden, on behalf of the Austrian Corona Panel Project, University of Vienna, Austria [contact: firstname.lastname@example.org]
Since our last update early August, infection numbers in Austria have been rising, although not yet to a level that another lockdown or other additional constraints are considered. As most holiday makers have returned, and the country is facing the beginning of the new school year in the first two weeks of September, the government has announced the introduction of a traffic-light system that will provide guidance to schools, businesses, and other institutions on measures to be taken to contain the pandemic. Such traffic light systems are being operated in other countries, such as Germany, where this system is intended to foster a more targeted approach to containment. In contrast to Germany, however, Austria has not yet experienced similar widespread protests against COVID-related measures.
Also in early August, we received the good news that the Austrian Corona Panel project — our representative panel survey that we have been running in regular intervals since the end of March 2020 — will be able to continue, thanks to a grant by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF; see here for details in German). We are thrilled to be able to continue this work, which provides a unique source of scientific evidence to policy, media, and publics.
So, what have we found since our last update?
Employment trajectories and emotional distress. About 30 percent of the people employed in February 2020 lost their job as a consequence of the crisis. A generous short-time work programme, which allowed for work-time reductions down to zero hours, has kept about 80 percent of these people in employment. We studied the effect of becoming unemployed during the crisis on mental health and found that becoming unemployed has resulted in a significant increase in the risk of depression, whereas no such effect could be observed for people benefiting from the short-time work programme.
No rise of nationalism — but even less love for Europe. In April 2020, we asked our study participants to what extent they feel connected to the place where they lived. 47% felt connected with Austria, 37% with their province and with their town or village respectively, and only 16% felt connected with Europe. A comparison with data from previous years showed that people’s identities as Austrians remained stable, while their identification with their place of residence, their province, and with Europe has dropped. Moreover, when asked how proud they were to be Austrians, fewer people (44%) answered in the affirmative than in 2003 (50%), proving wrong assumptions of rising nationalism in Austria against the backdrop of rising nationalism in other European countries. We also found that people who perceive their own social status to be lower lean more strongly towards populist ideas, and vote for right wing parties.
Volunteer work. At the end of May 2020, we asked our survey participants what volunteer work they were doing. We asked about formal volunteer work, such as unpaid work for a charitable organisation, and informal volunteering, such as supporting neighbours. Compared to available data on volunteering from 2019, “formal” volunteer work had decreased by almost 10 percentage points, from 31% to 22% — most likely due to restrictions during the lockdown period from March-May. Informal volunteer work, in contrast, had risen from 30% to 50% in the same period.
We found a gender gap in formal volunteering: 58% of those who reported doing so in May 2020. In terms of informal volunteering, both women and men reported doing so equally. One interpretation of this would be to conclude that men do more volunteer work because women spend even more time with childcare and household activities than before (as we reported previously; and see also here). (Yet unpublished) evidence from a related qualitative study suggests, however, that many women do not consider the informal support that they provide to others as work, but as acts of friendship, for example. If this were found to be a general feature, this could indicate that women in particular underestimate the informal volunteer work that they do (we will report more on this as new findings emerge).
In sum, we see increasing evidence that the pandemic may have brought about changes in views, practices, and attitudes whose relationship with the pandemic is more complicated than many expected. In particular, a deeper exploration of the relationship between the pandemic and nationalist and populist attitudes is needed. Moreover, we still need political measures that do not only focus narrowly at the immediate, short-time fall outs of the crisis but that alleviate social risk factors — most prominently, poverty.
We will post our next update early October — an overview of all updates (with links) is below.