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The Keen, the Concerned, the Content: the three groups anticipating the return of normal life post-Covid

Press release issued: 16 May 2021

The UK population is made up of three distinct groups, each with different levels of concern and eagerness about going back to normal life after the Covid-19 pandemic, a new study has found. The study was carried out by King’s College London, the University of Bristol and the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response, and is based on Ipsos MORI survey data.

Analysis of survey data from 1 to 16 April reveals the groups – named the Keen, the Concerned and the Content – vary according to their reasons for not wanting to return to pre-Covid life, how comfortable they think they will feel resuming various activities once they are allowed, their life satisfaction during lockdown, and their views on the need to fight Covid versus protecting civil liberties.

“The Keen” (52 per cent of UK)

  • By far the largest of the three groups, representing around half the UK population. Disproportionately male (54 per cent vs 46 per cent) – unlike the other groups – and the only group made up of more Leavers (55 per cent) than Remainers (45 per cent).
  • Keenest of the three groups to return to normal life and least likely to have concerns about doing so:

    • Just six per cent say not enough people being vaccinated could make them not want to return to normality – compared with 55 per cent of the Concerned and 32 per cent of the Content who feel this way.
    • Forty seven per cent say there are no reasons that could make them not want to go back. Not a single member of the other two groups says the same.
    • Most relaxed about the prospect of resuming certain activities once allowed:

  • Fifty per cent are comfortable with the idea of going to the pub – compared with 30 per cent of the Content and 24 per cent of the Concerned.
  • Thirty seven per cent would comfortable attending large public gatherings such as sport or music events – almost three times the proportion of the two other groups combined who say the same. And 35 per cent would be relaxed about going abroad for their holidays – around twice the share of the other groups who feel this way.
  • Seven in ten say they’ll feel comfortable visiting family and friends or going to a shop, and six in ten say the same about getting a haircut or beauty treatment.

“The Concerned” (34 per cent)

  • Second-largest of the three groups, amounting to around a third of the population. Disproportionately female (56 per cent vs 44 per cent), with more Remainers (55 per cent) than Leavers (45 per cent), and the group with the highest share (58 per cent) of households earning less than £35k a year.
  • Most concerned about the restrictions lifting because they believe the rules are still necessary to protect public health, and reluctant to return to normality:

    • They are the only group with a majority who say that new strains of Covid (74 per cent), a desire not to catch the virus (79 per cent), and a belief that not enough people have been vaccinated (55 per cent) could stop them returning to their pre-pandemic life.

  • Least likely of the groups to feel comfortable about resuming various activities:
    • Just nine per cent would be happy to go to large public events and 12 per cent would be relaxed about going abroad on holiday.
  • Most likely of the groups to be dissatisfied with their social life during the pandemic compared with how it was before, with 61 per cent feeling this way.
  • Seventy three per cent heavily prioritise controlling the spread of Covid over protecting civil liberties, compared with 63 per cent of the Content and 52 per cent of the Keen who feel the same.

“The Content” (14 per cent)

  • The smallest of the three groups, comprising around one in seven people in the UK, and majority-female (56 per cent).
  • The most highly educated  group – 43 per cent have a university degree – and the most middle-class, with 64 per cent in social class ABC1. They are also the highest-earning, with 53 per cent on a household income of over £35,000 a year, and the group with the biggest share of Remainers (58 per cent).
  • Most content with their lives under lockdown and therefore most reluctant to go back to normal:

    • A majority say they don’t want to go back to their pre-pandemic life (57 per cent), and that they could be stopped from doing so because they like to work from home (57 per cent).
    • Around two-thirds say they might not return to normal life because they can save money by not doing so (67 per cent) and because they are happy not meeting as many people as they used to (69 per cent).
    • Sit between the other two groups in terms of how comfortable they feel about resuming various activities.
    • Distinguished from the other groups by being happier with various aspects of their lives now than they were before Covid struck.
    • They are around twice as likely (37 per cent) as the Concerned (19 per cent) and the Keen (15 per cent) to say they’re more satisfied now with the amount of leisure time they have, and even with their life overall (21 per cent vs nine per cent vs nine per cent).
    • Compared with the other groups, greater proportions are also happier with their job (24 per cent), house or flat (29 per cent) and their household income (20 per cent).

The analysis is based on the findings of a survey of 4,896 UK adults aged 16 to 75 from 1 to 16 April conducted by Ipsos MORI.

Dr Daniel Allington, senior lecturer in social and cultural artificial intelligence at King’s College London, said: “People have experienced life under lockdown in many different ways, so, now that it's coming to an end, there are mixed feelings. Most people have found lockdown unpleasant, but there are many who feel that it is not yet safe to return to normal – no matter how miserable the restrictions have made them. On the other hand, there are people who have found something to enjoy in the ‘new normal’ of lockdown, such as the convenience of working from home or the ability to put aside a little money that would otherwise have been spent. As the country moves out of lockdown, it's an opportunity for us all to think about how we want to live our lives from this point onwards.”

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said: “As we come out of lockdown, it’s vitally important to recognise that there are a wide variety of perspectives among the public – from those keen to get back to normal life, to those still very concerned about the health risks, and those who are pretty content with many aspects of our new way of living. 

“Government and employers are going to have to communicate carefully and be flexible with people as we make that transition – it’s going to be a very difficult balance to get right. There is also no simple split among the public, where, for example, all the young are keen to get back and old are worried – it’s a much more varied picture, which makes targeting messages and actions all the more challenging.”

Report study

'The Keen, the Concerned, the Content: the three groups anticipating the return of normal life post-Covid' by by Daniel Allington, Siobhan McAndrew, Bobby Duffy and Vivienne Moxham-Hall

Further information

Technical details

Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 4,896 adults aged 16-75 in the United Kingdom between 1 and 16 April 2021. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government office region, working status, social grade and education. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.

Multiple correspondence analysis was used to find underlying patterns in people's perception of obstacles to returning to life as normal. This analysis suggested that there were two main axes of opinion: on the one hand, keenness or reluctance to return to life as normal, and on the other hand, contentment with lockdown versus concern about the dangers of relaxing lockdown as reasons for being reluctant to return to life as normal. A machine learning approach called k-means clustering was then used to divide respondents into groups according to where they fell on those two axes.

For the purpose of calculating the percentage of Leavers and Remainers in each group, the researchers ignored those who did not or could not vote in the 2016 EU membership referendum, as well as those who couldn’t remember or didn’t want to say how they voted. 

The findings in this study are part of “Covid and after: trust and perceptions”, a project funded under the ESRC COVID-19 Rapid Response research call ES/V015494/1.

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