Research by the Institute on the Corona Pandemic | Max-Planck-Institut für Sozialrecht und Sozialpolitik - MPISOC


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22.04.2020 / The Institute

Research by the Institute on the Corona Pandemic

In various projects, scientists investigate legal, political and economic issues

The Corona Pandemic will have large impacts on the economy and the social security systems in the long run. Scientists of our Institute are currently examining these consequences within several research projects of which an overview is provided below.


The Department of Foreign and International Social Law conducts research on the following topics:

1. Protecting Livelihoods in the COVID-19 Crisis

The Corona crisis pushes the worldwide economy into recession. Even if its extent cannot yet be predicted – it will leave profound marks. The research project “Securing Livelihood in times of the Corona Crisis” analyses selected countries (Germany, France, Denmark, England and Italy) regarding their strategies and measures taken in order to secure livelihoods and maintain potential economic power through state intervention. Measures ensuring an easier access to social protection, compensation payments for reduced volume of employment and deficits in terms of demand for products and services, are of central concern. The analysis of such benefits focuses on the one hand on the question of how to implement them into the existing social policy of the respective country. On the other hand, the scientists examine the changes induced by the measures agreed on. This refers to changes induced not only by financial transfers per se but also in regard of the systematization, the practicality and the assessment of interventions by the welfare state.

The first results were published in May 2020 in the series Working Papers Law and have been updated in October 2020. The department will continue to take stock of the social law interventions and examine the extent to which they not only secure livelihoods but also lead to structural changes of traditional welfare state architectures.

Project team: Ulrich Becker, Eva Hohnerlein, Anika Seemann, Linxin He, Nikola Wilman

Working Papers Law 7 (as of October 2020) as PDF file (english)

Working Papers Law 6 (as of: May 2020) as PDF file (german)


2. The International Health Regulations: The Past and the Present, but what Future?

In two essays (Harvard International Law Journal and BioDiritto) Lauren Tonti examines if and in how far the International Health Regulations (IHR) set by the WHO that are currently directing global reactions to COVID-19, are a suitable instrument for the containment of a pandemic. Tonti concludes that confidence in the IHR decreases and that many question whether the provisions adequately fit modern tendencies. A number of violations of the IHR regulations during the crisis underline the failure of the preventive measures established in the IHR – mainly due to national discretion. There were several direct IHR infractions, particularly Articles 6 and 7, governing reporting, and Article 43, regarding the implementation of protective measures. In order to strengthen the IHR, the junior scientist presents some reform proposals.


3. How to Protect the Vulnerable?

Irene Domenici and Tim Rohmann are preoccupied with measures for the protection of high-risk members of the population. In their essay "How to protect the Vulnerable? Legal Implications of Vulnerability in Times of COVID-19", they take a closer look at the immediate reactions to the outbreak of the pandemic and reflect on the legal implications of vulnerability for the exit-strategies from the current lockdown, focusing on the proposal of maintaining restrictive measures for vulnerable groups only. The authors conclude that a balance between containment measures and the protection of fundamental rights becomes even more pressing with respect to vulnerable groups, especially in view of proposals aiming at restricting the curfews to high-risk populations. Over-emphasizing their need for protection bears the risk of disregarding their rights and autonomy and one-sidedly imposing paternalistic measures in order to urge a solution and alleviate economic consequences.


4. Impacts of Measures against Corona on Asylum and Migration Policy

Impacts on asylum and migration policy that arise from measures taken to contain the pandemic are examined by Dr. Constantin Hruschka. In several articles, he draws attention to the potential infringement of the right to asylum due to internal border controls between EU Member States, to the consequences for public health and access to national asylum and accommodation systems, as well as to the need of European solidarity instead of a focus on national measures in order to contain the pandemic

In addition, Dr. Hruschka is co-author of the paper "Kreativität – Verantwortung – Transformation", which presents fundamental requirements for a progressive easing of the COVID-19 Lockdown. One condition is the establishment of immigration control systems adjusted across the EU and governed by the need of health protection. Cicero magazine and Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on the work of the interdisciplinary research team. 


5. COVID-19: Walking on the Tightrope of Vaccination Obligations

In her essay “COVID-19: Walking the Tightrope pf Vaccination Obligations” our junior researcher Lauren Tonti draws at a long-debated issue in public health coming up in the course of containing the pandemic – mandatory vaccination. She draws attention to the necessity of understanding available legal obligations before the existence of a vaccine to ensure a viable roll out scheme of the vaccine. For this, the constitutionality of mandatory vaccination in the US and Germany is examined and discussed against the background of proportionality.


6. Testing for the Benefit of All - and at the Expense of 90 %?

In an article on, PhD candidate Franciska Engeser deals with the question of how to bear the costs for the legal claim to Covid-19 tests in asymptomatic persons recently announced by Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn. The article examines the current legal situation regarding mass tests and the changes resulting from the new regulation. In particular, the sole financing through the reserves of the statutory health insurance - without participation of the private health insurance companies - is critically discussed.


7. Corona Vaccine: Wonder Weapon or New Constitutional Bone of Contention?

With the administration of the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, a shift in the debate about corona measures towards questions about vaccination and a possible "privileging" of immunised persons is emerging. Together with her colleague Stefan Schäferling from LMU Munich, Lauren Tonti, in an article for the journal "COVID-19 und Recht" (COVuR), highlights current legal challenges related to corona vaccines and outlines the (constitutional) legal framework that has to be taken into acccount in their distribution and with regard to conceivable measures to increase the vaccination rate on the way to herd immunity.


Our Department of Social Policy, the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA), works on these projects:

1. SHARE's Contribution to Research about the Social, Health and Economic Impact of COVID-19

About SHARE:
SHARE, the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, is a research infrastructure for studying the effects of health, social, economic and environmental policies over the life-course of European citizens and beyond. From 2004 until today, 480,000 in-depth interviews with 140,000 people aged 50 or older from 28 European countries and Israel have been conducted. Thus, SHARE is the largest pan-European social science panel study providing internationally comparable longitudinal micro data which allows insights in the fields of public health and socio-economic living conditions of European individuals, both for scientists and policy makers. SHARE is centrally coordinated at the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA), a division of the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy.

SHARE´s Corona Survey:
After the interruption of SHARE’s Wave 8 fieldwork due to the COVID-19 outbreak and associated safety measures in March 2020, SHARE successfully resumed the fieldwork with shortened, but targeted telephone interviews (CATI - Computer-Assisted-Telephone-Interview) in summer 2020. This interview collected variables in the same domains as the regular questionnaire. However, the survey was complemented by a new module about the pandemic, which specifically addresses the health, economic and social situation during the Corona crisis (so called SHARE Corona Survey). The survey has been conducted from June to August within a subsample of the SHARE respondents in 27 European countries and Israel.

In December 2020, SHARE published an early release of SHARE COVID-19 data, thus giving green light for pandemic-related SHARE research worldwide. The data allow examining in depth how the risk group of the older individuals is coping with the health-related and socioeconomic impact of COVID-19. The great advantage of these data are the possibility to measure and interpret differences in a cross-country and a longitudinal dimension. SHARE’s embeddedness in a worldwide network of harmonized ageing surveys, permits European and even worldwide comparisons of how well the healthcare and social systems have responded to the pandemic and which lessons should be drawn for the future. Moreover, the use of data from previous waves allows comparing this crisis’ socioeconomic impact with previous hardships, for example the economic crisis in 2008.

SHARE COVID-19 Research:
The EU Commission supports SHARE’s COVID-19 research project (SHARE-COVID19) by funding through Horizon 2020 and the Coronavirus Global Response launched by President Ursula von der Leyen. This projects investigates the non-intended consequences of the epidemic control decisions to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and how the well-being of European citizens is affected in terms of economics, social relationships and health.

Please find here the latest research projects from MEA researchers based on data from the SHARE Corona Survey:

a) The mental well-being of older adults after the first wave of COVID-19
Epidemic control measures that aim to introduce social distancing help to decelerate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, their consequences in terms of mental well-being might be negative, especially for older adults. While existing studies mainly focus on the time during the first lockdown, MEA researchers look at the weeks afterwards in order to measure the medium-term consequences of the first wave of the pandemic. 

Publication: Atzendorf, Josefine; Gruber, Stefan: "The mental well-being of older adults after the first wave of COVID-19", MEA Discussion Paper 04-2021.

b) Influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on private care networks in Europe
The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the European countries at the beginning of 2020. This has become particularly problematic for those in need for personal care as related epidemiological control measures (physical distancing, stay-at-home requirements etc.) installed in almost all European countries strongly affected the possibility to provide care to others as well as to receive care from people outside the own household. Against this background, MEA researchers focus on how caregivers and care recipients living at home (the non-institutionalized) dealt with the situation. 

Publication: Bergmann, Michael; Wagner, Melanie: "Caregiving and care receiving across Europe in times of COVID-19",  MEA Discussion Paper 03-2021.

Read a summary of the study: >> SHARE Website

c) The relationship of threat perceptions and optimistic attitude with protective behavior in the COVID-19 crisis
Mortality in the COVID-19 crisis is highest among older adults and other vulnerable groups. Based on Protection Motivation Theory and using data from the first SHARE Corona Survey, MEA researchers investigate how threat perceptions and optimistic attitudes are associated with motivation to engage in protective behavior in the population 50+.

View publications: MEA Discussion Paper 05-2021 (link following soon)

d) Behavioural risks factors and preventative COVID-19 measures amongst a high-risk population
The focus of the study is to investigate the reaction to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic of an already at-risk population, while considering other potential behavioural risks, such as smoking, obesity, physical inactivity and unhealthy eating. MEA researchers attempt to answer the questions: to what extent are individuals of a risk group that engage in the aforementioned behavioural risks more or less likely to engage in different preventative measures as a consequence of the threat of the pandemic? In which way does this behaviour differ across Europe? 

Project team: Maria Mendoza Jimenez, Tessa-Virginia Hannemann, Josefine Atzendorf
>> Project page

e) Financial hardship during the Corona pandemic – identifying risk groups
The corona pandemic has had a substantial effect on the economies in the EU member states and, consequently, on Europeans’ financial well-being. Due to the selective economic effects of lockdown measures, MEA researchers suspect that the downturn will affect some households disproportionally. This project will shed light on risk groups for financial hardship during the pandemic, using variables on both economic deprivation and poverty risk from the SHARE Corona Add-on data.

Project team: Alexander Schumacher, Arne Bethmann
>> Project page

f) Short-term vs long-term effects of short-time employment
This project uses data from the new SHARE Corona Telephone Survey to document the prevalence and understand the implications of short-time employment in the SHARE countries. MEA researchers combine the SHARE Corona Telephone Survey, which has information on individuals’ working hours during the COVID-19 lockdown in the spring of 2020, with the wave 8 data as well as previous waves of SHARE. First, they provide an international comparison of short-time employment aid from 26 countries and describe its pattern across gender, age, sectors, unemployment history, and types of employment such as regular or self- employment. While doing this they will study the changes in the design between 2008 and 2020 for those countries, which used this instrument in both crises, and compare the effects of short-time employment aid across countries both in 2008 and 2020. Second, in addition to the individual characteristics, they also analyze whether policy related variables such as the generosity of the schemes correlate with the prevalence of short-time employment aid.  MEA researchers will also distinguish the direct effect of the pandemic from its indirect effect by measuring the severity of the pandemic with deaths due to COVID-19 and the severity of the epidemic control decisions by the Oxford stringency index.

Project team: Axel Börsch-Supan, Diana Maria López-Falcón, Vesile Kutlu Koc

g) Home office: How do different lockdown decisions to contain the pandemic affect the economic and health situation of employees?
This project acknowledges that there exists a great heterogeneity in the workers’ ability to work from home and to exploit the advantages of online services. In addition, workers in different sectors have vastly different risk exposures to infection. This project aims to construct a model, which distinguishes between different remote-work abilities and infection risk in different sectors of the economy. To study the effects of lockdown policies, this model will be used to evaluate different pandemic lockdown scenarios.

Projektteam: Ivo Bakota
>> Project page

Please note, that we are regularly publishing SHARE based COVID-19 Research on the SHARE Website.

2. Corona and Pension

a) Can the German "double stop lines", financial sustainability and fairness between generations be combined despite the corona pandemic?

Since 2019, a so-called "double stop line" has been in place to ensure that the statutory replacement rate of the German public pension insurance does not drop below 48% and that the contribution rate does not rise above 20%. This stop line applies until 2025. Subsequently, "old law" applies again, according to which replacement and contribution rates are adjusted in accordance with the pension adjustment formula, including the sustainability factor. The latter takes the demographic change into account in order to secure the financing of pension benefits in a sustainable and generation-appropriate manner. However, the implied increase of the contribution rate and the implied drop in the replacement rate are in conflict with the desire of the population to have “pension security” cast in fixed stop lines.

A MEA Discussion Paper presents possible ways out of this dilemma. They consist of different combinations of stop lines, sustainable financing and a generation-appropriate distribution of the demographic burden. The paper uses the MEA-PENSIM model to calculate the developments of the replacement rate, the contribution rate and any additional funds from the federal government. As shown in Börsch-Supan und Rausch (2020a), none of these alternative models can stabilize the contribution rate without substantial additional federal funds in the long term. This situation has worsened due to the Covid 19 pandemic. This is mainly due to the fact that the financial situation of pension insurance after 2030 will be determined by an increasing difference between retirement age and life expectancy. MEA researchers are therefore supplementing the models by adapting the retirement age to life expectancy after 2031, when the "pension at 67" will be fully introduced. They show that – except from the two models of a double stop line – all other models could keep a contribution rate of less than 23.5% without the need for additional federal funds.

Börsch-Supan, Axel; Rausch, Johannes: "Lassen sich Haltelinien, finanzielle Nachhaltigkeit und Generationengerechtigkeit trotz der Corona-Pandemie miteinander verbinden?". MEA Discussion Paper 01-2021.

b) The Impact of the Corona Crisis on Pensions

The effects of the Corona pandemic on the contributors to the pension system and the pensioners were calculated by the scientists of the department for social policy, the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA). They found that the pandemic will place a significantly greater burden on the contributors to the pension system than on the pensioners. With expected falling annual wages of the contributors, the pension guarantee level will rise significantly in 2021, and all the more so the deeper the recession. This is because, according to the statutory pension guarantee, the pensions must not fall although the annual wages do. The former pension law would have restored the balance between generations during better years that are hoped to follow. With the introduction of the "double stop line", however, this "catch-up factor" was suspended. The effect is a permanent increase of the guarantee level.

The “double stop line”, valid until 2025, will cap the increase in the contribution rate (currently 18.6%) at 20 %. Therefore, increased federal funds for the statutory pension system are to be expected from 2021 onwards. Except in the case of a relatively mild or short recession, the 20 % stop line will be reached as early as in 2021. Without the Corona crisis, this would have only been the case in 2025. As a consequence, federal subsidies need to be increased by up to 5 billion euros already next year and by up to 19 billion euros in 2025.

“Pensioners will therefore be financially less affected by the Corona crisis than the working population. Paradoxically, their financial position will even be improved by the crisis in the long-term,” explains Axel Börsch-Supan, Director of the Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA) at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy.

Details of the calculations and the different scenarios can be found in the MEA Discussion Paper 11-2020. Another contribution on this issue was published by the ifo Schnelldienst 04/2020.

Project team: Axel Börsch-Supan, Johannes Rausch