24. March 2022

 – Policy Brief

COVID-19 social stratification in Switzerland 

Summary of problem

Since the beginning of the pandemic, social scientists anticipated that the virus and the associated public health measures would exacerbate pre-existing social inequalities. 

Executive summary:

The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated measures have socially differentiated consequences across society. Despite the virus possibly affecting everyone, individuals do not have similar resources to protect themselves from exposure and to cope with the multiple economic and social difficulties brought by the pandemic and by public health measures. This policy briefs aims at describing the differentiated impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated measures across social groups in Switzerland. 

Available evidence, based on differences along income, education, and work position, show that individuals placed at the lower end of the social spectrum have experienced a stronger economic impact and more job insecurity. They also have been more exposed to the virus, and more strongly impacted in their mental and self-reported health and access to healthcare. Switzerland is no exception and is experiencing the same social inequalities as observed in other countries. 


Recommendation 1: The ability to take individual responsibility depends on social stratification and unequal resources which should be taken into account.

Some groups are better equipped to cope with difficulties than others and the importance of structural determinants of health must be kept in mind. Data on social stratification support nuancing the emphasis on individual responsibility as regards protection from the virus and its consequences. 

Recommendation 2: The prohibition of direct and indirect discrimination obliges state actors to actively take compensatory measures aimed at equal opportunities.

Particular attention must be paid to those groups of people who were already considered vulnerable before the pandemic (e.g. children, people with disabilities, people living in poverty) and to those who have only become vulnerable as a result of the pandemic. In this context, it is important to take into account the risk of multiple discrimination (e.g. children with disabilities, women in precarious economic situations, persons with health problems and irregular residence in Switzerland).

Recommendation 3: Monitoring the pandemic consequences on different groups across society is important.

In analyses of the COVID-19 consequences in Switzerland, little attention is given to social stratification along education, income, and work position in analyses, especially regarding epidemiological and medical data. Data remains quasi-inexistent for groups with migrant origins, which have been shown to be an important factor of health and socioeconomic vulnerability in other countries. 

Type of document: Policy Brief

Date of response: 24/03/2022

Experts involved: ELSI

Contact persons: Samia Hurst

As the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force has been disbanded as of 31 March 2022, no further epidemiological assessments, scientific updates or policy briefs will be published in the future. All previous publications, pages and information of the Science Task Force remain available on this website.