The effect of broadband internet on mental health

About this Session


Fri. 12.04. 11:50



Authors – Sofia Fernandez Guerrico, Ilan Tojerow.

Abstract :

Since the late 1990s, governments around the world have allocated large amounts of public funds to develop high-speed internet access via broadband infrastructure. Between 2004 and 2011, the percentage of EU households connected to broadband internet rose from 15 to 67% (Eurostat, 2011). Residential high-speed internet has altered how, when, and where individuals conduct a wide range of activities, including work, search for information, sleep, and interact with others. Despite the growing number of studies analyzing the effects of broadband Internet access on a wide range of socioeconomic outcomes, there is scant causal evidence on the link between residential work-related internet use and mental health.

There is a growing concern that constant connectivity to work may disrupt work-life-balance and be detrimental to workers well-being. Understanding the causal link between work-related ICT use at home on workers’ mental well-being is extremely important to design evidence-based public and health policy. For example, the “right-to-disconnect” policies—which allow workers to be unreachable after work hours—have been gaining traction in many European countries since 2016. In the case of Belgium, it contributes to the analysis of the determinants of long-term disability insurance claims.

This paper explores the relationship between access to broadband internet and workers’ mental health in Belgium. Our empirical strategy exploits a technological feature of the telecommunication infrastructure that generated substantial variation in the availability and quality of Internet: the distance of a household from a network node determined internet access and speed. We merge information about the internet network topology with geocoded longitudinal data from the Belgian Crossroads Bank for Social Security, a rich collection of administrative microdata that collects information on Belgian workers’ labor market trajectories and basic demographics.

Using a dynamic difference-in-differences design, we compare mental health-related outcomes of individuals with access to residential internet to those without access. We find that access to broadband internet when initially deployed is associated with a 2-3% increase in long-term disability rates with respect to baseline values. This increase is driven entirely by increases in disability insurance claims due to mental health conditions. We find no changes in the probability of entering long-term disability due to other medical conditions. This paper contributes to a broader understanding of the upward trend in work-related illnesses—burnout and chronic stress—and their role in the expansion of disability insurance programs.