COVID-19 Death Rates Far Higher for Black Women vs Men in Other Racial Groups, Suggest Harvard Researchers

According to a new study published by the GenderSci Lab at Harvard University in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Black women in the US are dying at significantly higher rates from COVID-19 than White men, and disparities in mortality rates among women of all races are greater than those between White women and White men.

Although inequities in COVID-19 outcomes in the US have been documented for sex and race—men are dying at higher rates vs women, and Black individuals are dying at higher rates vs White individuals— the current study is the first to quantify how COVID-19 mortality rates vary by both race and sex.

“In our analysis of COVID-19 mortality patterns…we find that contrary to blanket claims of men’s higher mortality, Black women have over three times the COVID-19 mortality rate of both white and Asian men. Black women in the United States are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than every other group, male or female, except Black men,” wrote co-authors Tamara Rushovich, MPH, and Sarah S. Richardson, PhD, in an op-ed for The Boston Globe.

Researchers used COVID-19 mortality data through September 21, 2020, from Georgia and Michigan (the only 2 states reporting age-, race-, and sex-disaggregated COVID-19 mortality data at the federal level) to understand how apparent sex disparities in COVID-19 deaths vary across race.

Results showed Black women had COVID-19 mortality rates that were nearly 4 times higher than that of White men and 3 times higher than that of Asian men, as well as higher rates than White and Asian women.

Researchers also found:

  • Black men had significantly higher mortality rates than any other sex and racial group, including over 6-times higher than the rate among White men.
  • The disparity in mortality rates between Black women and White women was over 3 times the disparity between White men and White women.
  • The disparity between Black men and Black women was larger than the disparity between White men and White women.

Writing in the study’s Discussion, Rushovich et al note that disparities observed in COVID-19 mortality, “replicate well-documented racial and gender health inequities.” Disparities in prevalence of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, they state, “are widely understood as reflections of historical, structural, and contextual experiences of racism, discrimination, and inequity.”

“Our findings demonstrate the urgent need for comprehensive federal and state reporting of socially relevant variables in relation to COVID-19 outcomes,” concluded authors. “Such data are fundamental to multi-dimensional analyses that can illuminate the patterns of inequity we uncovered within and across race and sex categories.”