To understand America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, researchers started with data from more than 200 years ago – at the American frontier.
Painstakingly, and with tremendous amounts of data processed by 97 advanced computers, Jingjing Li, Ting Xu, Natasha Zhang Foutz and Bo Bian went county-by-county to track levels of individualism – measured by the amount of time each locality spent on the American frontier from 1790 to 1890 – and correlate individualism to social distancing compliance and COVID-19-related crowdfunding.
Time spent on the frontier, where independence and self-reliance were essential for survival, is widely accepted in social science as an indicator of individualism. Settlers needed independence and self-reliance to survive. People with those traits self-selected to migrate to the frontier, survived, and ultimately passed those traits to the next generation.
Now, that individualism, passed down culturally for at least 130 years, is complicating local responses to the pandemic.