The higher a person’s income, the more likely they were to protect themselves at the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, a new study finds.

When it comes to adopting behaviors including social distancing and mask-wearing, researchers detected a striking link to financial well-being. People who made around $230,000 a year were as much as 54% more likely to increase these types of self-protective behaviors compared to people making about $13,000.

“We need to understand these differences because we can wring our hands, and we can blame and shame, but in a way it doesn’t matter,” says Nick Papageorge, an associate professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University.

“Policymakers just need to recognize who is going to socially distance, for how long, why, and under what circumstances to give us accurate predictions of how the disease will spread and help us establish policies that will be useful.”

As part of a six-country survey, researchers asked 1,000 people in the United States, from Texas, Florida, California, and New York, a series of questions in April 2020 to determine if and how their behavior had changed as COVID-19 cases began to spike across the country. The resulting data includes information on income, gender, and race along with unique variables relevant to the pandemic, such as work arrangements and housing quality.

The team, which included economics graduate student Matthew Zahn, found that while almost everyone changed their behavior in some way to try to stay safe, people making the most money made the most changes. The highest earners were 13% more likely to change their behaviors, 32% more likely to increase social distancing, and 30% more likely to increase hand washing and mask wearing.

Read the full article about COVID-19 safeguards by Jill Rosen at Futurity.