Skip to main content

From politics to family time, social isolation is affecting almost every facet of our lives, Concordia researcher says

Pierre-Yann Dolbec investigates how consumption patterns are changing during the pandemic
May 6, 2020

Virtually no aspect of our lifestyles before COVID-19 has remained unchanged since the outbreak of the global pandemic. The ways we work, socialize, educate our children and consume goods and services have all shifted in remarkable ways.

Pierre-Yann Dolbec is trying to monitor and make sense of those changes, notably as they relate to consumption patterns. For the past two months, the assistant professor of marketing at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business has been gathering data alongside his colleague Eileen Fischer at York University’s Schulich School of Business. The two have been conducting interviews with dozens of people in Montreal, Toronto and Los Angeles about life under lockdown and how they are adapting.

Dolbec notes that his definition of consumption is broad. He maintains that most of our daily activities, from the hobbies we pursue to the food we buy, can be classified as such.

Pierre-Yann Dolbec Pierre-Yann Dolbec

Politics and the home

Looking over the data from a first wave of interviews, the researchers note several patterns that have emerged.

First, they identify an ideological entrenchment of consumption. Dolbec has long insisted that for many people, ideology drives consumption. He says the data at this stage confirms that.

“We had people fill out a questionnaire about their political orientation before we started the interview, and we see their behaviour often mapping well with their beliefs,” says the Concordia University Research Chair in Complexity and Markets.

“The more libertarian they tend to be, the more individualistic their reaction will be, such as hoarding products or flouting social distancing recommendations.”

Next, he points out the increased erections of inside/outside barriers. “People feel they have a clean and sanitized world inside their homes, as opposed to the dirty and dangerous world outside,” he says. While some governments are recommending or even mandating wearing protective masks outside, more extreme behaviour ranges from sanitizing products that come into homes like mail packages, food deliveries and groceries to relocating to cottages.

Stress and routines

Stress levels often differ across socio-economic levels. Dolbec has seen professionals working in well-paying jobs reporting lower levels of stress than those whose employment is more precarious. Some are experiencing a sense of productivity relief: less travel, more time with family, less time commuting. The less affluent, especially students, are meanwhile worrying about lost wages, internship opportunities or job interviews.

There are also frequent examples of people altering their daily routine. To relieve the tedium that comes with a widespread lockdown, some of the interviewees report dressing up or applying makeup for their workday even when they are working from home, re-arranging their home office space or setting up a makeshift exercise area.

“Two months ago, everybody was talking about working in their underwear,” Dolbec says. “Now, people are talking about wearing a suit just so they can feel some normalcy.”

Finally, one major change the researchers observed during the pandemic is a return to family, especially, again, among the student population. This can be both a blessing, as families reconnect without the constant interruptions and commitments of everyday life, and a challenge, he says.

“All of a sudden you have four, five or six people living in your household,” he explains. “We see people are dealing with establishing schedules, trying to find privacy and so on.”

More isolation is more data

Dolbec initially envisioned the data collection lasting only six weeks, but the extension of the lockdown altered his plans. With some form of social isolation likely to continue for the near future, he predicts this extra period will allow him and Fischer to conduct further interviews, this time informed by their previously collected data.

“The next step will be to align our findings with what the extant theories would have predicted.”

Find out more about Concordia’s Department of Marketing at the John Molson School of Business.




Back to top

© Concordia University