Changes in social connection during COVID-19 social distancing: It's not (household) size that matters, it's who you're with

PLoS One. 2021 Jan 20;16(1):e0245009. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245009. eCollection 2021.


To slow the transmission of COVID-19, countries around the world have implemented social distancing and stay-at-home policies-potentially leading people to rely more on household members for their sense of closeness and belonging. To understand the conditions under which people felt the most connected, we examined whether changes in overall feelings of social connection varied by household size and composition. In two pre-registered studies, undergraduates in Canada (NStudy 1 = 548) and adults primarily from the U.S. and U.K. (NStudy 2 = 336) reported their perceived social connection once before and once during the pandemic. In both studies, living with a partner robustly and uniquely buffered shifts in social connection during the first phases of the pandemic (βStudy 1 = .22, βStudy 2 = .16). In contrast, neither household size nor other aspects of household composition predicted changes in connection. We discuss implications for future social distancing policies that aim to balance physical health with psychological health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Communicable Disease Control*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Humans
  • Physical Distancing
  • Sexual Partners
  • Social Interaction*
  • Social Support
  • Telecommunications
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology

Grant support

UC Riverside provided financial support to recruit participants for Study 2 (S. L. and K.O.M.), but did not play any role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of each of the authors are articulated in the "author contributions" section.