Staying Close When Apart: The Value of “Information-Communication” during the COVID19 Pandemic
AbstractWe show that communication interventions – which have become globally pervasive during
the COVID-19 pandemic – promote individuals’ consumption and psychological well-being.
Partnering with a major telecommunication company, we field communication programs
that provide either a “lump-sum mobile phone calling credit” or “monthly tranches of mobile
phone calling credit” to a nationally representative set of low-income households in Ghana
during the crises. Individuals’ inability to make unexpected calls, unexpected need to borrow
airtime, and to seek digital loans decreased dramatically relative to a control group. As a
result, the programs led to a significant decrease in the likelihood of severe mental distress
by 2.7 percentage points (quarter the mean prevalence), with modest impacts on overall
consumption expenditure. Monthly mobile credits are more likely than lump-sum mobile
credits to “sustain” larger impacts, suggesting that individuals may face time inconsistency
and/or social pressure problems. We emphasize the value of communication and need for
many installments of communication transfers during pandemics.