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The Varieties of Consumer Revival

Previous major economic crises such as the Great Depression and the 1973-74 oil-price shock left their marks on consumer behavior. As the greatest economic disruption of this generation, the COVID-19 pandemic also will have a lasting impact – one that may be more varied and divergent than ever before.

SAN FRANCISCO – One of the most striking features of COVID-19 is its uneven effect. Many people remain healthy, while others have become seriously or even fatally ill. The pandemic’s economic impact has been similarly unequal, with some households being spared any financial hardship and others struggling or even wiped out.

Those differences matter as we look forward to the post-pandemic economic recovery. Although consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of economic activity, it is a mosaic, not a monolith.

At the McKinsey Global Institute, we recently analyzed consumer demand and behavior during the pandemic in China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We placed consumers into age and income cohorts to determine the strength and shape of the spending recovery. We then examined which pandemic-induced behavioral shifts may persist after the crisis ends.