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16 May 2021

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

Each have very different levels of concern and eagerness about going back


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

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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.

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 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.

“The Keen” (52% of UK)

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

    • Just 6% say not enough people being vaccinated could make them not want to return to normality – compared with 55% of the Concerned and 32% of the Content who feel this way.
    • 47% say there is no reason 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:

    • 50% are comfortable with the idea of going to the pub – compared with 30% of the Content and 24% of the Concerned.
    • 37% 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% would be relaxed about going abroad for their holidays – around twice the share of the other groups who feel this way.
    • Seven in 10 say they’ll feel comfortable visiting family and friends or going to a shop, and six in 10 say the same about getting a haircut or beauty treatment.

  • More likely than the other groups to think we should prioritise civil liberties over fighting Covid.

“The Concerned” (34%)

  • Second-largest of the three groups, amounting to around a third of the population. Disproportionately female (56% vs 44%), with more Remainers (55%) than Leavers (45%), and the group with the highest share (58%) 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%), a desire not to catch the virus (79%), and a belief that not enough people have been vaccinated (55%) could stop them returning to their pre-pandemic life.

  • Least likely of the groups to feel comfortable about resuming various activities:

    • Just 9% would be happy to go to large public events and 12% 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% feeling this way.
  • 73% heavily prioritise controlling the spread of Covid over protecting civil liberties, compared with 63% of the Content and 52% of the Keen who feel the same.

“The Content” (14%)

  • The smallest of the three groups, comprising around one in seven people in the UK, and majority-female (56%).
  • The most highly educated group – 43% have a university degree – and the most middle-class, with 64% in social class ABC1. They are also the highest-earning, with 53% on a household income of over £35,000 a year, and the group with the biggest share of Remainers (58%).
  • 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%), and that they could be stopped from doing so because they like to work from home (57%).
    • Around two-thirds say they might not return to normal life because they can save money by not doing so (67%) and because they are happy not meeting as many people as they used to (69%).

  • 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%) as the Concerned (19%) and the Keen (15%) to say they’re more satisfied now with the amount of leisure time they have, and even with their life overall (21% vs 9% vs 9%).
    • Compared with the other groups, greater proportions are also happier with their job (24%), house or flat (29%) and their household income (20%).

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.”

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.

About the NIHR
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
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The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.


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