COVID crisis: who’s been hardest hit, the impact on Britain and generational prospects

The UK public are more likely to say the COVID -19 crisis has affected men worse than women, people from ethnic minorities worse than white people, and the old worse than the young, according to a new study.

The author(s)

  • Kelly Beaver Managing Director, Public Affairs
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New research, by King’s College London and Ipsos MORI, also finds little recognition among the public that their own generation’s prospects, or those of today’s youth, are at risk because of the crisis, while the public are relatively split on whether Britain will emerge stronger or weaker from the pandemic.

The study is based on 2,237 interviews with UK residents aged 16-75, carried out online between 17 and 20 July 2020.  

Who has been – and who will be – more negatively impacted

Men vs women

  • The public are more than twice as likely to say the crisis has had a worse impact on men (26%) than women (10%) – although more (47%) think it has had an equal impact.
  • Even women are more likely to think men have been worse hit: 26% of both genders think this is the case, compared with 11% of women and 9% of men who say the opposite.
  • 19% of men and 18% of women think men will be more negatively impacted over the next few years, compared with 10% and 11% respectively who say it’ll be women. 54% think the impact will be the same for both.

White people vs people from ethnic minorities

  • 57% of the public say the impacts of the crisis have been more negative for people from ethnic minorities, compared with 7% who say they’ve been worse for white people. 
  • 59% of white people say people from ethnic minorities have been worse affected by the crisis so far – much higher than the 41% of ethnic minorities themselves who say the same.
  • Looking to the next few years, 50% of white people say those from ethnic minorities will be worse hit, compared with 36% of people from ethnic minorities who say the same.

Old people vs young people

  • Six in 10 (63%) think the COVID-19 crisis has so far affected old people worse than young people, while one in 10 (10%) think the reverse. 
  • Gen Z are the only generation without a majority who feel the impact has been worse for old people – but they are still far more likely to think the old (45%) have been more negatively impacted than the young (18%).
  • There is little sign of the public recognising that the longer-term fallout from the crisis will likely be worse for young people. When asked about the impacts over the next few years:
    • 16% think young people will be more greatly affected, compared with 49% who think old people will be.
    • Similar divides in opinion are found across all generations, with even gen Z less likely to say young people (22%) will be worse hit than old people (34%).

Other groups

  • The public feel the poor (59%) have been worse affected than the rich (3%), that people in cities (55%) have been worse hit than those in other areas (7%), and that the impact has been more negative for other groups of people (22%) than people like them (15%). 
  • When asked about the longer-term impacts of the crisis over the next few years, there is no change in which groups the public think will be more negatively affected.

Will Britain emerge weaker or stronger?

The public are relatively divided on how the coronavirus crisis will affect Britain: 

  • 46% say the country will be weaker because of it for years to come, compared with 39% who say the country will be stronger when it gets through it.
  • Greater optimism about Britain’s future is associated with greater trust in government, with certain groups more likely to say the country will emerge stronger, such as:
    • Those who support the government’s approach to controlling coronavirus (58%), 2019 Conservative voters (56%), those who trust the government to control the spread of coronavirus (55%) and those who trust government advice on when it’s safe to resume aspects of normal life (55%).
  • 2019 Lib Dem (58%) and Labour voters (57%) are much more likely than Conservative voters (35%) to think the crisis will weaken Britain.  
  • And people in Scotland are more pessimistic than the UK as a whole, with 58% saying they think Britain will be weaker.

Generational prospects 

There is little indication that the COVID-19 crisis has affected the public’s views on their own generation’s prospects, or those of today’s youth: 

  • 34% feel their generation will have had a better life than their parents – virtually the same as the 36% who felt this way in 2013, when the same question was last asked.
  • And the proportion who feel their generation’s lives will have been worse has actually declined since then – from 40% in 2013 to 28% today. In line with this, 30% now think their lives will be about the same, up from 19%. 
  • Baby boomers are the only cohort with a majority (52%) who think their generation’s lives will be better than their parents’, and they are more than twice as likely as millennials (21%) and members of gen Z (25%) to feel this way. 
  • The situation is reversed when it comes to those who feel their generation will have been worse off, with millennials (37%) and members of gen Z (34%) more than twice as likely as baby boomers (16%) to think this.
  • People from ethnic minorities (37%) are more likely than white people (26%) to feel their generation’s lives will be worse than their parents’.
  • Despite the educational and economic challenges COVID-19 poses to many young people, the proportion who feel today’s youth will have a worse life than their parents has declined since 2019, from 47% to 38%.
  • 34% of gen Z, 39% of millennials, 38% of gen X and 40% of baby boomers feel young people’s lives will be worse than their parents’ – and no generation is more likely to think they will be better.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:

The public are relatively split on whether Britain will be weaker or stronger following the COVID-19 crisis, but there’s more certainty about who’s been worse hit so far, with old people in particular seen as among the most at risk – even over the next few years. That’s despite dire predictions about the hardship many young people may be set to face as a result of the pandemic, with their education, employment prospects and economic futures in doubt.
And while many politicians and commentators are seeing the pandemic as a generation-defining event, driven by the huge economic and social disruption resulting from the crisis, public opinion hasn’t shifted to reflect this yet: there’s been little change in people’s views on whether today’s youth or their own generation will have had a better life than their parents – with, if anything, people slightly more positive than previous years.
The public are also more likely to think men have been more negatively affected by the crisis, and will continue to be in the longer term – which is likely due to reports of greater adverse health impacts for men from coronavirus. But other research shows women are more likely to have lost their jobs, to have suffered from mental health problems, and to have borne the brunt of childcare responsibilities throughout lockdown. These wider impacts are not top of mind, as people are more than twice as likely to say the crisis has affected men worse than women – and women themselves are more likely to say this too.

Kelly Beaver, managing director of Ipsos MORI Public Affairs, said:

We see from this research that across the generations people believe that older people have been affected worse than younger people. This is likely due to the particular health concerns that we have seen associated with COVID-19 and those over 70 in particular. Britons are roughly divided on whether Britain will be stronger or weaker after the pandemic, with partisanship playing a significant role in knowing which side of that question people fall on.

Technical details

  • Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 2,237 adults aged 16-75 in the United Kingdom using its online i:omnibus between 17 and 20 July 2020. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government office region, working status, social grade and education. All surveys are subject to a range of potential sources of error.

The author(s)

  • Kelly Beaver Managing Director, Public Affairs

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