Economic Research on COVID-19

The past 12 months has been dominated by COVID-19, the related recession, the government response, and other matters. But it has not just dominated our lives, it has also dominated new research, including research by economists!

Working papers from the National Bureau of Economic Research are one place to track on-going research by economists. While not all economic research is released as an NBER working paper (there are other series, and some economists just post them on their own website or department page), the volume of NBER papers should tell us something about the trends.

Here’s a chart showing the weekly NBER working papers that are in some way related to COVID-19. The first batch of three papers was released in late February, one long year ago. The second batch of nine papers came one month later. Since then, there have been papers released every single week, with the exception of the week of Christmas.

In total, there have 373 papers released that relate to COVID-19. The peak comes in late May and early June, with 61 papers released in a 4-week period and 21 of those papers coming out on May 25 alone. Since the May-June peak, we’ve seen a slow decline in papers on COVID-19, and we are now at our lowest level, with just 14 papers released in the past 4 weeks.

Needless to say, with almost 400 papers released, there is no economist who can possibly digest and summarize all of the results. But here are the main topics that these papers address:

  • Effects on Households and Firms: 90
  • Social Distancing and Other Policy Responses: 64
  • Aggregate Macroeconomics Effects: 53
  • Health, Mortality, and Pandemic Modeling: 44
  • Labor Markets: 42
  • Asset Markets: 22
  • 1918 Spanish Flu and Other Pandemics: 8
  • Other Aspects: 37

And while reading all of these papers would be impossible, the NBER does have video interviews and presentations of 26 papers that you can view on their website.

The research on COVID-19 will undoubtedly continue for years and we try to understand all the aspects of the disease, the recession, and the government response. But it looks like we are well past Peak COVID Research, at least for economists. However, predictions are hard these days. That first peak was papers written during the first wave of COVID in March-April. Maybe there is another big batch of papers being written now on the second, more deadly wave in November 2020-January 2021.

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