The Relationships Between Socioeconomic Status, COVID-19 Risk Perceptions, and the Adoption of Protective Measures in a Mid-Western City in the United States

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COVID-19, Coronavirus (COVID-19), Health Belief Model (HBM), Risk communication, Risk perceptions, Socioeconomic status (SES)


An individual's perception of risk plays an influential role in the behaviors they engage in, which could reduce or increase exposure or transmission of a certain disease. Since risk perceptions vary by social identities (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, age) they are believed to influence the interpretation and likelihood of following guidance from risk-communication efforts. This study aims to understand how COVID-19 risk perceptions vary by social identity (with an emphasis upon socioeconomic factors), how such identities influence behavior adoption through risk-communication pathways, and how findings can be practically applied in messaging. Previous studies have investigated the role of social factors on risk perceptions, but SES has not been modeled as the main factor. Guided by the Health Belief Model and Social Determinant of Health Frameworks, findings from our 326 participants suggest those with high-risk COVID-19 perceptions identified as higher income and held more advanced educational degrees, suggesting a positive relationship between risk perceptions and SES. Individuals with high-risk perceptions more frequently reported practicing protective behaviors against COVID-19 and reported greater severity, susceptibility, barriers, benefits, trust, confidence, and health literacy in adopting behavior changes against the virus. When applying such findings to create a local risk-communication plan (logic model), it was found that messaging should be culturally relevant, in-plain language, and consistent to improve health literacy. In addition to using the most trusted and frequently used communication sources self-identified by residents, we recommend uniting trusted formal and informal community leaders to provide information in diverse pathways and formats.