Study: Black women dying of COVID-19 at rates higher than most men

Harvard study used data from Georgia, Michigan public health departments

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A new observational study by the GenderSci Lab at Harvard University shows that Black women are dying at significantly higher rates than men in other racial and ethnic groups.

“Inequities in COVID-19 outcomes in the USA have been clearly documented for sex and race: men are dying at higher rates than women, and Black individuals are dying at higher rates than white individuals,” researchers at Harvard wrote.

For their study, the researchers used publicly available datasets of COVID-19 deaths (accessed on Sept. 21, 2020) from the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

State-level data were used because federal COVID-19 mortality data did not include age, race and sex.

“This analysis complicates the simple narrative that men are dying at greater rates of COVID-19 than women,” lead author Tamara Rushovich, Harvard Ph.D. candidate in population health sciences and lab member at the GenderSci Lab, said in a press release.

Results show that the belief men with COVID-19 fare worse than women varies across social groups defined by race/ethnicity.

Key findings of the study include:

» Black women have COVID-19 mortality rates that are almost 4 times higher than that of white men and 3 times higher than that of Asian men, as well as higher than white and Asian women.

» Black men have far higher mortality rates than any other sex and racial group, including more than 6 times higher than the rate among white men.

» The disparity in mortality rates between Black women and white women is more than 3 times the disparity between white men and white women.

» The disparity between Black men and Black women is larger than the disparity between white men and white women.

The study found that men had consistently higher COVID-19 mortality rates than women within age and race strata, the team wrote. For example, in Georgia, among individuals ages 70–79, the rate among white men and white women, respectively, was 235.5 per 100,000 and 156.6; among Black men and Black women was 675.7 and 364; and among Asian/PI men and Asian/PI women was 294.8 and 115.1.

“It is well understood that racism and social inequities, not genetics, are responsible for racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality,” the group wrote. “However, many researchers focus on differences in biology to explain the sex disparity in COVID-19 mortality. This paper’s findings challenge the sole focus on biology as an explanation for sex differences in COVID-19 mortality and argue that societal factors related to gender in combination with racism and socioeconomic stratification are important explanatory factors.”

The paper was published Monday in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.