Country's value priorities in health crisis: How dominant societal motivations shape COVID-19 severity

Mac Zewei Ma, Shengquan Ye

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


This paper presents two comprehensive studies examining how Schwartz's human values dimensions at the country level predict COVID-19 pandemic severity. Study 1 aggregated survey data across 89 countries from the European Social Survey and World Values Survey to assess societal-level conservation versus openness to change (CON-OTC) and self-enhancement versus self-transcendence (SE-ST) value-continuums. Study 2 developed an innovative archival measurement approach using 10 indicators to estimate these value dimensions for over 180 countries. Both studies employed multilevel modeling to test the relationships between country-level values and COVID-19 severity, measured through epidemiological indicators of transmission speed, case fatality rate, infection prevalence and mortality burden. Results revealed that the CON-OTC and SE-ST value-continuums showed consistent, significant negative associations with transmission speed and infection prevalence before adjusting for modernization, latitude, historical pathogen prevalence and government stringency across both studies. However, after accounting for these socioecological and policy covariates, the CON-OTC value-continuum positively predicted case fatality rate in both studies, implying conservation values could increase COVID-19 lethality. In contrast, across both studies, the SE-ST value-continuum negatively predicted case fatality rate after adjusting for the covariates, suggesting countries prioritizing self-enhancement values exhibited relatively lower pandemic severity and lethality when accounting for developmental, ecological, and policy factors. Accordingly, the studies advance theoretical understanding of how country's value priorities shape COVID-19 impact. Methodologically, these studies contribute through multilevel techniques that account for spatial dependencies, as well as an innovative ecological measurement. Overall, this research demonstrates the value of applying Schwartz's framework at a societal level to predict global health crises and pandemics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101493
JournalSSM - Population Health
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Archival indicators
  • COVID-19
  • Circular model of human values
  • European social survey
  • Self-enhancement values
  • World values survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy


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