Understanding Intergenerational ContactsA PROJECT BY NICOLETTA BALBO, FRANCESCO BILLARI AND ALESSIA MELEGARO HELPS UNDERSTAND HOW TO LIMIT THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR CONTAGION AND PROTECT WEAK SUBJECTS
Researchers that study infectious diseases are well aware of the decisive role that social contacts play in their spread. Regarding this area, COVID-19 immediately attracted the interest of demographers and epidemiologists for its particular lethality for older population groups.
“In the first part of a project with Francesco Billari and Alessia Melegaro, which has already been published, we deal with precisely this aspect, that is, the spread of the epidemic and intergenerational contacts, studying the latter’s trends in various countries,” explains Nicoletta Balbo, a faculty member at the Department of Social and Political Sciences. “For the empirical analysis we combined demographic data from several surveys that offer information on co-residences and intergenerational contacts of people over 60 in different countries, with data typically used in epidemiology, extracted from diaries by individuals who were asked to to report all their contacts in one day. The result was that both types of data offer a similar picture: in countries in Southern Europe, such as Italy and Spain, there is more contact between young people, adults and the elderly.”
The COVID Crisis Lab research is now in its second phase, in which some socio-demographic areas (structured by age of the population, number of contacts and heterogeneity by age of these contacts) are entered into epidemiological models to observe how the epidemic scenario varies as each of them changes. “Understanding how these elements influenced the initial spread of the pandemic can also serve to inform predictive models,” continues the faculty member. “The demonstration of how the individuals' social contacts move today should advise how and where to intervene to limit the chances of contagion or identify the subjects most at risk. The importance of social contacts has always been at the center of epidemiological studies, but COVID has accelerated their combination with socio-demographic data, uniting two worlds that previously tended to think autonomously and that now have become synergistic. The study also confirms the importance of taking into account for each country the socio-demographic characteristics, the age structure of the population, the culture, the family model, and the institutional and welfare setting. Because everything is interconnected, and no aspect can be ignored when facing a pandemic of this type.”
by Emanuele Elli