Free DP Download 08 April 2021 - COVID-19, RACE, AND GENDER

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Graziella Bertocchi and Arcangelo Dimico
CEPR DP No. 16000 April 2021

Black Americans died at exceptionally high rates during the early stages of Covid-19 compared to the population share, which discloses an extraordinary degree of racial segregation. This was driven by a Black female bias in mortality that appears to be at odds with the well-established evidence. This is largely the result of poverty and occupational concentration in the health care and transportation sectors and by commuting on public transport. Living arrangements and lack of health insurance are instead found uninfluential. The bias is concentrated in neighbourhoods that were subject to historical redlining.

These are among the findings of a new CEPR study by Graziella Bertocchi and Arcangelo Dimico, which uses an extraordinarily detailed source of information on daily deaths from COVID-19 collected by Chicago’s Cook County Medical Examiner, to investigate the racial and gendered impact of COVID-19, its timing, and its determinants. It uncovers several notable, and thus far unreported findings: 

  • During the  first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic Black individuals have died at a rate approximately 1.2 times higher than their population share. By April 9 this was as high as 2.2, which implies that Black individuals were the  first to be hit by the virus.
  • Thus, not only are Black Americans disproportionately affected by COVID-19, but they also started to succumb to it earlier than other groups, which explains the consequent decline in the share of cumulative black deaths as the epidemic followed its course.
  • The data uncovers a Black female bias in mortality that appears to be at odds with the well-established evidence that rather points to a male bias. The probability of dying from COVID-19 has been particularly high for Black women, while Black men were not significantly more likely to die from the disease than White men.
  • Black women, who tend to be as vulnerable as Black men are unlike White and Latino women, who are more shielded than White and Latino men, respectively.
  • The higher vulnerability of Black women being explained not by physical and demographic factors, such as comorbidities and ageing, but rather by socioeconomic status. The impact of the latter on mortality is channelled by their overrepresentation in low-pay, high-risk, essential jobs in the health care and transportation/warehouses sectors, that they access through commute by public transport, often from the historically redlined neighbourhoods where they tend to be residing.
  • There is no evidence for a role of other potential channels that can affect contagion through the household or prevent access to health care.

What the epidemiological curve discloses is an extraordinary degree of racial segregation, with different groups displaying distinct patterns even in the timing of their exposure to the Epidemic provide evidence on how race affects COVID-19 outcomes. 


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