Lives and Livelihoods: Understanding Public Preferences and Trade-offs for Government Responses During a Pandemic

Department of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine

Funding: Health Economics Research Unit of the University of Aberdeen

Duration: since May 2020

Carried out by:

  • Dr. Mesfin Genie (Health Economics Research Unit Aberdeen)
  • Dr. Luis Loría-Rebolledo (Health Economics Research Unit Aberdeen)
  • Dr. Shantini Paranjothy (University of Aberdeen)
  • Dr. Daniel Powell (University of Aberdeen)
  • Prof. Dr. Mandy Ryan (Health Economics Research Unit Aberdeen)
  • Dr. Ruben Sakowsky (Institut für Ethik und Geschichte der Medizin, Göttingen)
  • Dr. Verity Watson (Health Economics Research Unit Aberdeen)


The Covid-19 pandemic has forced governments worldwide to implement lockdown measures. These policies have differed considerably across different countries in terms of scope, length, and in the severity of restrictions.

While necessary to save lives, lockdown measures had a profound negative impact on many people’s lives and livelihoods. Many employees saw their hours reduced, were furloughed, or lost their jobs entirely. Patients had limited access to non-pandemic related health services, and parents were unable to make use of childcare services.


In this project, which is coordinated by the Health Economics Research Unit in Aberdeen, we focus on citizen preferences with respect to lockdown policies. In particular, we are evaluating what restrictions people are willing to endure in order to save lives.

We evaluate how these preferences differ across age, sex, and income levels. In addition, we employ an innovative methodology (a combination of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire-20 with Discrete Choice Experiment methodology) to evaluate the effect of people’s moral attitudes on their lockdown policy preferences. We also measure people’s willingness to comply with different restrictions.

Our research aims at understanding which lockdown measures have the greatest impact on different people and which restrictions are most likely to be followed. This knowledge can help political decision makers implement lockdown policies in a way that minimizes negative impact and increases compliance. Our investigation of the effect of moral attitudes on lockdown preferences can lead to more effective ways to promote trust in pandemic prevention strategies.


Genie, M. G., Loría-Rebolledo, L. E., Paranjothy, S., Powell, D., Ryan, M., Sakowsky, R. A. and Watson, V. (2020) 'Understanding public preferences and trade-offs for government responses during a pandemic: a protocol for a discrete choice experiment in the UK', BMJ Open, 10(11), e043477.


postdoctoral researcher

Dr. Ruben Andreas Sakowsky

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