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“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

Ecclesiastes 3:4

Does the majority of the population enjoy the luxury of all of the above? Has the world adapted to the pandemic faster than human beings? How long will it take for humans to restore maximum efficiency? With the rising spread of the new coronavirus variants, the trade-off between greater economic activity and a higher number of cases has intensified. Many sectors can be observed resuming a major part of their operations, with governments encouraging more activity to bolster economic recovery. While debates continue about different shapes of economic recovery that countries might witness, the aspect of human capital still remains largely out of the equation.

As vaccination drives are being conducted on a large scale in many countries, economic indicators are showing signs of recovery and it is evident that supply and demand levels might achieve equilibrium in many industries by mid-2021. On the other hand, it is difficult to quantify the impact and time required for fixing the disequilibrium in the minds of human beings.

The R0 of discontentment:

In medical terminology, R0, pronounced as ‘R-naught’, is the indicator of how contagious an infectious disease is. It connotes the average number of people who will contract a contagious disease from a single individual with that disease. The higher the R0, the faster the spread of infection. Similarly, inefficiency due to discontentment or even worse, grief, can easily affect the functioning of those around us.

We can divide the population into 4 broad groups to analyse the impact of the pandemic on mental health and productivity, further making an attempt to translate it into economic gains or losses.

  • Gen Z (Approximately 5-20 years old):

A vast majority of this category either lost a certain part of their childhood or a chunk of their teenage years. Children belonging to low-income families have experienced lack of food and lack of access to education all over the world. Some have been pushed into poverty and have even been forced to work at a very young age to make ends meet. Adverse effects of missed vaccinations and unsatisfactory living conditions can cause children to grow into incapacitated adults.

Living in this restricted environment induced by lockdowns all over the world, young students could either grow up to be more fearful and anxious or turn out to be more rebellious individuals. According to the health and nutrition survey of Euromonitor International (EMI), this generation is already the most anxious generation ever, with 54 percent of respondents expressing ’extreme or moderate concern’ for their mental health. Personality traits fostered during the early years of one’s existence are usually very difficult to alter and work around in the future. A decade or two down the line, we are looking at a working population that is permanently affected by perhaps serious mental health problems developed in their formative years.

  • Millennials (Approximately 20-40 years old):

With unemployment and reduced incomes, Generation Y is a hard hit group – they might have to delay key life events such as wealth accumulation, homeownership, marriage, and childbirth. The affordability crisis and the millennial wealth divide has deepened, leaving the ones in the bottom half in great despair. However, the pandemic of emptiness isn’t likely to spare the “mega-llinneals” either. Mega-llinneals is that subset of Gen Y that managed stable earnings in the last year as well. Even with enough stable income and cashflow, they struggle with loneliness – as is evident from skyrocketing break-up and divorce rates.

Although possessing a high degree of energy and untapped potential, this generation is infamously known for being entitled and narcissistic. Issues revolving around maintaining and nurturing relationships have only intensified for the millennials. Caught under the spell of instant gratification, they face greater difficulty getting out of their comfort zone, whether it is in the form of physical effort or emotional struggle.

Procrastination and laziness affect their work ethic and thus lurks a feeling of unproductivity and worthlessness. This further leads to lower performance and a higher probability of losing their prime source of earning, whether they work salaried jobs or are entrepreneurs/ freelancers. Therefore, a concerningly large number of millennials are either already stuck or in close proximity of entering the vicious circle of reduced incomes, emptiness, and inefficiency.

  • Generation X (Approximately 40-55 years old):

Gen X is often referred to as the “sandwich generation” as they have to take care of their parents and their children at the same time. While it is the oldest adults who face the greatest risk from coronavirus, Gen X adults also have to worry about their own health, as a good number of them suffer from co-morbidities.

Having faced the likes of the dot-com bubble, 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis in their careers, this generation is considered to be the most resilient to cope with the pandemic. However, knowing that one has dependants who cannot do without them is a good enough reason for anxiety and stress. Losing friends and peers of their age group, having to deal with anticipatory grief, and tumultuous relationships have hit Gen X rather brutally. Marriages that have lasted for years have suddenly started to fall apart. Stewarts, a leading law firm in the UK, logged a 122% increase in divorce inquiries between July and October 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. Charity Citizen’s Advice reported a sharp rise in searches for virtual advice on ending a relationship. Clearly, this generation has a lot on its plate in the current times.

They face the pull of many demands all at once, having to look after their parents and also helping their children with virtual learning as educational institutions remain closed. On the whole, managing one’s own feelings of hollowness can be burdensome, if not altogether impossible. Coronavirus has essentially cracked the toughest nut in the human population, the brunt of which has to be borne by the economy on more than one level.

  • Boomers (Approximately 55-75 years old):

Adults over the age of 65 are at the highest risk of developing serious complications from Covid-19. It is this generation that has suffered the greatest number of deaths. Boomers are in the most vulnerable spot during the pandemic, but unsurprisingly so, they have also taken the most stubborn stance. Optimistic and fearless as they have become from the post-war period to the 21st century, they do not appreciate their children asking them to take precautions against the virus.

While this generation has somewhat maintained their routines, they are also the ones to have lost the maximum number of friends. Coupled with the grief of losing loved ones, they worry about their kids and grandkids who have to grow up in an uncertain time like this. Many seniors also complain about varying degrees of loneliness, as their families are unable to visit them – especially those who live in care homes, group facilities, or those who live alone.

As the demographics suggest, no division of the population has been able to escape the pandemic of emptiness, which in turn affects global productivity. Output figures might be able to restore themselves with the help of advanced technology and alternative mechanisms of production. But as ominous as it sounds – we are not only looking at reduced efficiency for a limited amount of time; we may be entering a prolonged state of paralysis of human capital.

By Tarini Goyal


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