Below is a complimentary Demography Unplugged research note written by Hedgeye Demography analyst Neil Howe. Click here to learn more and subscribe.

How Does Mask-Wearing Break Down Demographically? - 8 11 2020 12 16 51 PM

According to a recent poll, nearly three-quarters of Americans wear a mask “always” (44%) or “very often” (28%) when outside their homes. But mask usage varies considerably by demographic group, with women, Democrats, and those with annual incomes under $36K most likely to say they always wear them. (Gallup)

NH: Every day on social media, we see clashes over masks: viral videos of people refusing to wear them and people getting thrown out of stores.

But according to this Gallup poll, 72% of Americans report either “always” or “very often” wearing a mask in public. Compliance in the US is actually high relative to many news stories (though low relative to other high-income nations with similar infection rates).

So how does mask-wearing break down demographically?

By gender, women are more likely to wear masks than men. 54% of women report “always” wearing a mask, while only 34% of men say the same thing. Why the difference?  A study from May found that men were more likely to report that wearing masks was “shameful” or “weak.” 

When it comes to age, the data support our long-discussed observation that Millennials take Covid-19 precautions very seriously. Millennials are the most likely always to wear a mask (76%), Xers are the least likely (69%), and as for Boomers (71%), they might like to join in on the Xer defiance but may be scared straight by the fear of dying.

What makes Millennials, who are least likely to suffer from the virus, the most likely to wear masks? Most Millennials report that they don’t want to infect mom or grandpa. And many are fearful of getting sick themselves, despite their favorable odds. It’s Millennial risk aversion that keeps them wearing face-coverings. 

We have also observed that Millennials are more likely than older generations to prefer a strict and nationally led lockdown policy (see "Millennials Widely Oppose Reopening Businesses During Pandemic"). 

By political party, Democrats are significantly more likely to wear masks than Republicans. Gallup found that 61% of Dems “always” wear a mask, while only 41% of Reps say the same thing. Recently, however, the share of Reps wearing masks has increased as the pandemic has reached further into red-zone America. An analysis from the NYT found that conservative counties in southern Florida and southern Texas have attained near-universal mask-wearing. These areas are currently suffering from major outbreaks.

Gallup, similarly, found that people in the Northeast were the most likely to report “always” wearing masks (54%). No surprise here: NYC and Boston have been two of the hardest-hit places during the pandemic, and are both Democratic hot spots.

It’s unclear how income affects mask wearing. Gallup found that those who make less than $36k a year are more likely to report "always" wearing a mask (51%) than those making $36k to $90k (43%) or $90k+ (44%). This may be because low-income workers are more likely to have jobs requiring close interaction with other people. 

Or it may be for some other reason. Unfortunately, Gallup doesn’t provide crosstabs on who makes up these income brackets. Those making under $36K could be retirees, disabled persons, single mothers, or homeless. It's difficult to make any clear inferences from the data offered here.

How Does Mask-Wearing Break Down Demographically? - 8 11 2020 12 16 51 PM

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.