When norms collide: The effect of religious holidays on compliance with COVID guidelines

Fareena N. Malhi, Zehra Aftab, Sheheryar Banuri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: This paper investigates the effect of a religious holiday (Eid-ul-Fitr in Pakistan) on compliance behaviour instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Longstanding religion-based norms of behaviour during the Eid holidays (traveling to meet family members, praying in large gatherings, hugging) may counteract newly established (and weaker) norms of health-preserving behaviours.

Method: We study the impact of Eid-ul-Fitr on compliance with COVID guidelines for a sample of university students. Our effects are identified by unprompted delays in fielding a survey measuring compliance with prescribed behaviours.

Results: We find that compliance with guidelines declines immediately after the religious holiday in our sample of students, with no observable decline in other well documented predictors of compliance behaviour (risk perceptions, trust in the authorities). We find that this decline in compliance is largely attributable to male participants, with one important exception. We further confirm our results by conducting robustness checks incorporating matching techniques and a smaller follow-up study where we randomize invitations to the survey.

Conclusion: We conclude that amid the pandemic, newly formed norms pertaining to healthcare guidelines (focusing on social-distancing) emerged, and were subsequently undercut by longstanding norms of behaviour following a religious celebration: Eid-ul-Fitr. This paper underscores the fragility of these newly emerged norms, especially when challenged by a more well-entrenched, traditional norm.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Public Health
Early online date5 May 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 May 2023


  • B55
  • C22
  • C99
  • Compliance
  • Coronavirus
  • D84
  • D91
  • Gender
  • Pakistan
  • Social norms
  • Z1

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