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03.23.22

Age is More Than a Number When Comparing COVID-19 Mortality Rates Across Demographics

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In this District Data Brief Cleveland Fed researcher Rubén Hernández-Murillo argues that comparing COVID-19 mortality rates by state should factor in differences in the age distributions of populations, especially if making comparisons between demographic groups.

“Comparing mortality rates among different demographic groups using unadjusted mortality rates may be misleading because it neglects the consideration of age distributions within racial groups. Age distributions are an important consideration in the current COVID-19 pandemic because the virus affects age groups differently, and one’s risk of death increases with age,” says Hernández-Murillo. “If age-specific death rates for a given population are available, performing direct or indirect adjustments to the unadjusted mortality rates can result in a more accurate measure of death risk when comparing different demographics.”

Among the findings:

  • In the United States, male individuals show a greater mortality risk than female individuals using both the unadjusted mortality rates and age-adjusted mortality rates.
  • Using age-adjusted mortality rates when comparing the non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic white populations, Fourth District states (Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) show a greater risk for the non-Hispanic Black population than the non-Hispanic white population, while the opposite conclusion is found using unadjusted mortality rates.
  • Unadjusted mortality rates and age-adjusted mortality rates show a greater risk for the non-Hispanic Black population in the United States.
  • For Hispanic populations in Fourth District states, except West Virginia, age-adjusted mortality rates show a mortality risk for this group at least as great as that for the non-Hispanic white population, while the unadjusted mortality rates show the opposite.

Read more: Age-adjusted COVID-19 Mortality Rates by Demographic Groups

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks that along with the Board of Governors in Washington DC comprise the Federal Reserve System. Part of the US central bank, the Cleveland Fed participates in the formulation of our nation’s monetary policy, supervises banking organizations, provides payment and other services to financial institutions and to the US Treasury, and performs many activities that support Federal Reserve operations System-wide. In addition, the Bank supports the well-being of communities across the Fourth Federal Reserve District through a wide array of research, outreach, and educational activities.

The Cleveland Fed, with branches in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, serves an area that comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia. For more information, go to www.clevelandfed.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

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