Study highlights racial, sex disparities in COVID-19 rates

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Black women are dying at significantly higher rates from the novel coronavirus (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, according to a new paper published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The observational study used census data and publicly available data from Michigan and Georgia, the only two states reporting data disaggregated by age, race, and sex, to calculate and compare COVID-19 mortality rates. The researchers calculated age-specific rates for each sex-race-age stratum, and age-standardized rates for each race-sex stratum. Additionally, they investigated the sex disparity within race groups and the race disparity within sex groups using age-standardized rate ratios, and rate differences.

Results show that the common belief that men with COVID-19 fare more poorly than women varies in magnitude across social groups defined by race and ethnicity, the researchers said.  The study found that Black women have COVID-19 mortality rates that are almost four times higher than that of white men and three 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 over six times higher than the rate among white men.

Additionally, the disparity in mortality rates between Black women and white women is over three times the disparity between white men and white women, whereas the disparity between Black men and Black women is larger than the disparity between white men and white women.

It is well understood that racism and social inequities, not genetics, are responsible for racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality. 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 study is the first to quantify the inequities in COVID-19 mortality looking at both race and sex group, the researchers said.

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