New research reveals how Swedes react to government guidelines

Assistant Professor Erik Wetter and Professor Sara Rosengren at the Stockholm School of Economics.

How are Swedes changing their behavior during the COVID-19 crisis? A new research project from the Stockholm School of Economics offers insights into mobility and hoarding over the past – and coming – weeks and months.

The new research project, initiated by Professor Sara Rosengren and Assistant Professor Erik Wetter at the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE), combines data and insights from companies in sectors such as retail, telecom, and media in order to provide new insights into public behavioral dynamics. The main focus is on mobility, consumption, and hoarding behaviors e.g. bulk buying.
By collaborating with Swedish grocery chain Coop and mobile operator Telia, the researchers have been able to follow how the voluntary measures called for by Swedish authorities have changed the way Swedes behave when it comes to grocery purchases and mobility.
“Aggregated and de-identified customer data from private companies can provide rapid insights about behaviors in different segments of the public, not least in the age groups designated as high-risk and thus considered more vulnerable”, says Sara Rosengren.

Significant delays in following recommendations
Initial findings indicate that there is a significant delay to achieve government guidelines intended effects, but a much shorter lag to unintended consequences such as hoarding and bulk buying.
The data shows that consumers bought more groceries than usual between March 10 and March 19, following a statement by the Public Health Agency of Sweden highlighting a high risk of the novel coronavirus spreading domestically. This bulk-buying behavior was more prominent in Stockholm than in the rest of Sweden, with peak buying occurring 48 hours after the announcement to slowly peter out after that.
On March 16, the Swedish government advised senior citizens to self-isolate and to apply strict social distancing measures. On March 17 they issued general recommendations about working from home if possible. However, analyses of mobile and retail data for Stockholm reveals that it took eight days until the measures had achieved halved mobility for both the population in general and for high-risk seniors in particular.

Crucial to effective crisis management
The project highlights the public good value that private companies can provide in terms of high-resolution insights into public behaviors and responses to government guidelines during a public health crisis such as COVID-19.
“Understanding the timeline for intended and unintended effects of public announcements is crucial for effective crisis management”, says Erik Wetter.
Given that COVID-19 and the economic impacts are likely to persist for the rest of the year, the researchers are looking to continue and develop the research over the coming months data in collaboration with project partners, and are also looking to add additional companies to the project.
In a traditional research project work would happen for several weeks and months before sharing any results, but given the current situation, the researchers see the value of sharing early outputs and will update the analyses continuously as the project progresses.

Handelshögskolan i Stockholm
Project description
Wetter, Rosengren & Törn (2020): Private Sector Data for Understanding Public Behaviors in Crisis: The Case of COVID-19 in Sweden, SSE Working Paper No 2020:1