3 Variations in COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake Which Can Be Explained by Personality Differences

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3 Variations in COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake Which Can Be Explained by Personality Differences
3 Variations in COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake Which Can Be Explained by Personality Differences

Introduction

While the UK has successfully double-vaccinated the vast majority of adults for COVID-19, uptake has varied widely. Arguably, most heavily reported has been greater reluctance among younger adults and ethnic minorities, however, uptake has also been lower among other groups such as London residents, and males – especially younger males.

While a wide variety of factors are clearly contributing to differences in uptake, variations across different groups’ personality traits provide fresh and compelling evidence. Personality traits have been shown to be effective in predicting health behaviours (1), and in this article, I demonstrate how variations in three groups’ personality traits help to explain their lower COVID-19 vaccine uptake.

In particular, I focus on the two most relevant of the “big five” (2) personality traits to this situation: “Neuroticism” and “Agreeableness”. With regards to “Neuroticism”, we would likely expect a lower general propensity to worry to translate into lower vaccine uptake, on account of reduced fear of contracting the virus. Regarding “Agreeableness”, from a social perspective, we might also expect lower vaccine uptake among individuals who are, among other things, less likely to be inherently co-operative and trusting.

The three groups I examine here – all of whom have significantly lower than average likelihood to have received both COVID-19 vaccine doses – are:

  1. London residents
  2. Males
  3. Young males

London residents

In terms of regions of England, COVID-19 vaccine uptake has been lowest of all among London residents (3). In particular, across all age groups, uptake has been significantly lower in London than in the best performing region, the South-West. For example, based on the most recent data, 51% of London residents aged 18-24 have received two vaccine doses – compared to 61% of South-West residents of the same age. At the other end of the age spectrum, 87% of London residents aged 65+ have received two doses, compared to 97% of South-West residents of the same age. Large-scale personality studies have shown London residents score the lowest of all on the “Agreeableness” trait – with these residents significantly less likely than South-West residents to describe themselves as being agreeable (4). A lower sense of co-operation, and of trust, among London residents therefore appears to be an important social explanation for lower vaccine uptake in this region.   

Males

Second, and perhaps less widely reported, female COVID-19 vaccine uptake in England has overall been significantly higher than male uptake, at 84% vs. 82% for those having had two doses (3). Here, both “big five” personality traits above provide compelling explanations. First, females in the UK score significantly higher than males on “Agreeableness” (5) – so the social motivation to get vaccinated is higher among females. Second, females in the UK are also bigger worriers than males, scoring significantly higher on “Neuroticism” (5). Females’ higher uptake is therefore likely also due to a greater fear of contracting COVID-19.

Young males

Finally, while UK females are bigger worriers than males across every age group, this difference is especially pronounced at the lower end of the age spectrum: 18-24 year-old females in the UK score 22% pts higher than their male counterparts here (6). Vaccine uptake mirrors this, with the greatest gender difference in vaccine uptake – 11% pts in favour of females (43% vs. 32%) – occurring in this age group (3). Further evidence that “Neuroticism” is an important predictor of vaccine uptake comes when looking at older age groups: By age 35-44 the gender difference in likelihood to worry has narrowed from 22% pts to 13% pts, with the gender difference in vaccine uptake correspondingly narrowing, from 11% pts to 5% pts (81% for females vs 76% for males). Finally, at age 45-54, the gender gap in likelihood to worry narrows again (this time to 10% pts), while at the same time the gender difference in vaccine uptake completely disappears (86% for females and males).   

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Conclusion

This article has shown how personality traits – specifically “Neuroticism” and “Agreeableness” – can help explain lower COVID-19 vaccine uptake in three groups: London residents, males, and young males. While other factors will also contribute, in some cases they may be ruled out. For example, while vaccine availability and/or ease of accessing vaccination locations may contribute to regional differences in uptake, at a national level there appears to be no reason why these types of issues should strongly affect either gender more than the other.

The UK vaccine rollout has undoubtedly been a big success. However, by incorporating knowledge of how key personality traits differ across demographic groups, a more nuanced, and ultimately more effective approach, to encouraging uptake in the more reluctant groups could have been taken.       

References:

  1. Israel, S., Moffitt, T.E., Belsky, D.W., Hancox, R.J., Poulton, R., Roberts, B., Thomson, W.M., & Caspi, A. (2014). Translating Personality Psychology to Help Personalize Preventive Medicine for Young-Adult Patients. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106, 484-498.
  2. McCrae, R. R., & John, O. P. (1992). An introduction to the five-factor model and its applications. Journal of Personality, 60, 175–215.   
  3. https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/statistical-work-areas/covid-19-vaccinations/ 
  4. Rentfrow, P.J., Jokela, M., & Lamb, M.E. (2015). Regional Personality Differences in Great Britain. PLoS ONE, 10, e0122245. 
  5. Kajonius, P.J., & Johnson, J. (2018). Sex differences in 30 facets of the five factor model of personality in the large public (N=320,128). Personality and Individual Differences, 129, 126-130.
  6. RAPP Report (2014). Personality and Profit.

Header Image: Towfiqu Barbhuiya, Unsplash

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