COVID-19 is changing how people use cash around the world

Jamie BallardData Journalist
November 25, 2020, 8:00 PM UTC

A YouGov survey of nearly 26,000 people across 21 countries and regions finds that at least half of respondents in many places including Thailand (57%), Malaysia (53%) and Spain (52%) have been using cash less often because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

But that isn’t necessarily the case in the United States. Just one-quarter (25%) of Americans say they’ve been using cash less often during the pandemic, while almost twice as many (46%) say they mostly didn’t use cash before the pandemic and still don’t. Just 8% of US adults say they’ve been using cash more often during the pandemic.  

Additional data from this study suggests that Americans tend to use cash only for small purchases. About three in five (62%) say they use cash for “very cheap” purchases (like a pack of gum), but fewer than half use cash for purchases that are more expensive than this. By 52% to 41%, Americans are more likely to use electronic payments for “somewhat cheap” purchases, like buying lunch. Similarly, fewer than one in five use cash for “somewhat expensive” (18%) or “very expensive” (12%) purchases.  

This trend of using cash for cheap purchases and electronic payments for more expensive ones is largely reflected in most of the other places surveyed, save for China. About three-quarters (76%) of respondents in China say they use electronic payments even for very inexpensive buys.  

But although Americans appear to not be using cash as much as they use electronic payments, they aren’t particularly interested in the idea of a cashless society. While a quarter (24%) think it would be a positive development if the US became a cashless economy, about twice as many (50%) would see this as a negative shift.  

Respondents in France, Germany, Sweden, Britain, and Spain tend to feel similarly to those in the US, but not everyone thinks that a cash-free economy would be such a bad thing. Eight in ten (79%) Indians and about two-thirds (65%) of Malaysians say that going cash-free would be a positive thing for their country. Most of those who live in the United Arab Emirates (63%), Indonesia (63%), Vietnam (60%) and Singapore (56%) would also welcome their countries transitioning to an economy that relied on electronic payments instead of cash.  

See full results for these questions. 

Methodology: 25,823 adults, including 1,198 US adults, were surveyed. Interviews were conducted online between June 9 and July 13, 2020.