Joe Coughlin and Julie Miller Lead Webinar on Pandemic-Related Attitudes

by Adam Felts

AgeLab Director Dr. Joseph Coughlin and AgeLab Research Scientist Dr. Julie Miller led an interactive members-only webinar presenting MIT AgeLab survey findings on attitudes and behaviors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Capturing the feelings of respondents from late May to early June of 2020, the survey sought to understand and forecast how COVID-19 is impacting public attitudes and behaviors across generations. The findings were also compared to an earlier survey administered in March 2020, to track how peoples’ experiences of the pandemic may be changing over time.

Joseph Coughlin said that the primary aim of the survey was to ask respondents, “How are you doing?” In the March 2020 survey, people reported feeling predominantly worried, unsure, and stressed. In June, people expressed hope, contentment, and enthusiasm – but also still stress and worry. Dr. Coughlin suggested that many of us over that period may have come to accept the pandemic as part of everyday life, and that many have shifted toward a mindset of learning to live with it. “It is incredible how many of us say, okay, this is what is, now let’s start working it out,” he said.

The survey also revealed generational differences around worry about the pandemic. Baby Boomers reported less intense feelings of worry of all the generations, despite being a high-risk age group for complications due to COVID-19. For younger generations, on the other hand, levels of worry tended to increase from March to June. “These are the folks who are carrying this [pandemic] on their shoulders,” Dr. Coughlin explained – worrying about their young children, their incomes, and also perhaps their older parents.

The webinar also touched on how people felt about their homes and working lives. In respondents’ descriptions of they felt about their homes during the pandemic, the words “’safe’ and ‘comfort’ came right to the fore,” Dr. Coughlin said, suggesting the importance of home as a safe place during an uncertain time. At the same time, words like “chaos,” “prison,” and “boring” also arose as common descriptors of peoples’ homes. In their working lives, respondents mentioned isolation, interruptions, and communication issues as pandemic-related challenges. Zoomers were most likely to report isolation, while Millennials and Gen X were more likely to report interruptions and childcare as work-related issues.

Additionally, the webinar discussed how people may be feeling about planning for retirement during the pandemic. According to MIT AgeLab survey findings, younger Americans feel too uncertain to plan for retirement during COVID. For financial advisors trying to work with clients, “the conversations have to be about the now in order to pivot to what tomorrow might be,” Dr. Coughlin said.

At the end of their presentation, Dr. Coughlin and Dr. Miller also alluded to planned AgeLab research that will track how different generations are living, working, and playing both during and after the pandemic.

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About the Author

Photo of Adam Felts
Adam Felts

Adam Felts is a researcher and writer at the MIT AgeLab. Currently he is involved in research on the experiences of family caregivers and the future of financial advice. He also manages the AgeLab blog and newsletter. He received his Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University in 2014 and his Master's of Theological Studies from Boston University in 2019.

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