If people of color had the COVID death rate of college-educated whites, 89% fewer would have died in 2020


“We are also seeing inequalities in other diseases and causes of death, but these are much larger than what we normally see.”

Jessica Rinaldi / Globe staff

A recent Harvard study looked at what would have happened during the COVID-19 pandemic if everyone in the United States had died at the same rate as whites with college degrees in 2020.

What he found was surprising and shows that the results of obtaining higher education are apparently not equal for all.

Take a look at people of color aged 25 to 64, with and without a college degree, the study found 89% fewer would have died from COVID-19 in 2020 if they had died at the same rate as college-educated whites, meaning 40,000 to 45 000 deaths would have been avoided. For all people of color, 71% fewer people would have died and for all people, 48% fewer would have died.

Many factors could lead to this result, according to Justin Feldman, social epidemiologist and health and human rights researcher at the Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, who wrote the study with Dr. Mary T. Bassett.

Breaking down the different racial groups a bit, Feldman noted that the study shows that white men with the lowest level of education – high school or less – died at the same rate as black, Latino and American Indian men. with a university degree. For black men with a high school diploma or less, they died at a rate about five times that of white men with a college degree.

“The general point I make is that education has different meanings and different returns depending on the breed,” Feldman said. He noted that this is in part related to racial discrimination and the lack of the same employment opportunities for, say, a black person with a degree, as compared to that of a white person.

Uneven housing

Much of it has to do with housing, he said, and who gets exposed or infected in the first place. The study notes that people of color may be more likely to have risk factors like living in crowded housing or multi-generational housing. They may also be employed in jobs with a higher risk of transmission.

There is data to support this, Feldman noted. Studies of antibodies in some states or counties have shown disparities between those infected.

“We are also seeing inequalities in other diseases and causes of death, but these are much larger than what we normally see for causes of death,” Feldman said.

Whites typically live in a one-generation household, Feldman noted, or in a parent-child household. It’s very different for virtually every other racial or ethnic group.

Living in a crowded household can lead to more people being exposed or contracting COVID-19, he said.

“And housing is very closely related to wealth and multigenerational wealth, so despite your school performance, even a substantial increase in your income can’t necessarily overcome that,” Feldman said.

Who is dying vs who is inconvenienced

“In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which largely preceded the availability of vaccines, there were extremely high levels of racialized economic inequity in the distribution of COVID-19-related mortality,” says the study. “Future research could study the specific pathways that produced these joint racial, ethnic and socio-economic inequalities, as well as whether the long-standing political powerlessness of the populations among whom the virus was the deadliest (i.e. say economically marginalized racial and ethnic minority groups) was associated with policy responses to the pandemic.

Feldman noted that those with the highest death rates are working class people of color, the elderly and people with disabilities.

“And these are not populations who have a lot of political power or who are very rich,” he said. “I just think that explains a lot of things.”

Feldman noted that this could show why the response to the pandemic in the country, at least as far as policy is concerned, “has been so poor.”

Getting back to the statistics, in 2020 the number of whites under the age of 65 who had died from college was 4,500 out of nearly 400,000.

It seems that “policymakers will react if privileged and empowered groups are harmed, and fewer than 5,000 people is not a lot,” he said. “Basically white youth don’t die. If you look at the same age-specific mortality curve, they are quite different for other groups, especially American Indians and Pacific Islanders, but also Latinos and Blacks.

Reactions to the study

Feldman said he had received mixed reactions to the study.

There is a group that says they knew inequality was bad, but didn’t realize exactly how bad it was.

“This figure that we estimated – that 90% of deaths would have been avoided if everyone, every person of color had died at the same rate as a white person, especially those under 65 – it’s just extreme enough. “, did he declare.

Then there are the other people who are “more contemptuous,” he said.

“They look at this and I think it challenges their view of the world, and they want to find explanations why this pattern that we are seeing is not the result of injustice, it is the result of something else. “said Feldman, noting that one of the factors they point out is obesity.

“The models are actually quite different,” he said. “It’s not exactly what you might assume, the run by models of obesity education. I really don’t think it has a major role.

Then there are the people who are looking for other genetic differences. Or those who say it has to do with economic differences, not race.

“I think presenting racial inequality with educational inequality really bothers some people,” Feldman said, noting that the study results would seem to refute the idea that getting a higher education can help standardize The game’s rules.

“When you can demonstrate quite clearly that having an associate degree, having a college degree doesn’t remove inequality, it’s a pretty strong rebuttal to some people’s worldview,” he said. .


Feldman also noted that there are people who want to get the vaccine, but may not be able to take time off work, or they want to talk to their primary care provider first. These are issues that can disproportionately affect people of color.

Then there are the people who are not vaccinated. People of color have always been more skeptical of the medical community, especially black men in the wake of the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which subjects were lied to about the treatments they were receiving.

People of color are also more likely to be uninsured in this country.

“And the fact of not being insured is one of the main predictors of not being vaccinated, even if it is free, because these are people who do not have much access to health care”, a- he declared.

Vaccination cannot be the only way to stop the virus, he noted.

“At the end of the day, we need a better approach to the pandemic that doesn’t just rely on vaccination,” Feldman said. “Vaccination is important, but it can’t be the only thing we do, and we need less of the spread of the virus. There are a variety of policies that we can implement to do this, and there are practically a dozen of them, and we don’t really do much. “

About Myra R.

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