Black women died from COVID-19 at much higher rates than white men in Georgia and Michigan, per a new study.
Harvard researchers looked at data in COVID-19 death rates in the two states through September 2020 and found that Black women died at 3.8 times the rate of white men in Michigan and 1.6 times the rate of white men in Georgia.
While other studies had previously found that men overall are dying of COVID-19 at higher rates than women, and Black people are dying at higher rates than whites, this study looked at how both race and gender intersect to create further disparities.
The study’s findings were “consistent with what we would expect, although it’s always devastating to see such results and unfortunate that this is what we expect,” said study co-author Tamara Rushovich.
“Black women sit at the intersection of both gender and race oppression,” the Ph.D. student at Harvard’s school of public health added. “So it wasn’t surprising to see these high rates among Black women become more visible.”
The study relied on only two states, as other states did not at the time have complete data for COVID-19 deaths disaggregated by race, gender and age.
Neither Michigan nor Georgia had data for coronavirus deaths broken out by ethnicity, so the study could not include findings around Latinx people, who as a group nationwide — like Black people — are being hospitalized at three times the rate of whites and dying twice as much.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has only released some data on race and ethnicity of people infected and killed by the virus, after a push by Democratic lawmakers last year. But the data does not break down by race, ethnicity, gender and age across all states in a way that would enable the same kind of analysis nationwide as these researchers did in Georgia and Michigan.
Rushovich said she “wouldn’t be surprised to see similar patterns” of Black women dying at far higher rates than white men across the country, though she is wary of generalizing too much as each state had different surges of cases and policy responses, such as mask mandates and shutdowns.
“Because of the long history of racism and structural, gendered racism, I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar patterns that exist across the country, but there might be different degrees of magnitude,” the researcher said, noting that it would be critical to get similar data on COVID-19 deaths from all states.
Over 558,000 people have died so far from the coronavirus in the U.S.
Part of the factors that explain Black women dying at such higher rates than white men is what the researchers called “occupational exposure,” or how much people’s jobs exposed them to the virus. Women of color are disproportionately represented in essential work, from home health aides to nurses, who were particularly at risk on the front lines of the virus. Other factors, like evictions, disproportionately placed women of color at risk of catching the virus.
Having data on the disparities in deaths from COVID-19 specifically around intersections of race and gender, like this study, is important in terms of how the government responds in designing relief bills, vaccine distribution and more, Rushovich noted.
“Collecting data and reporting is one step — it doesn’t solve the issue, but it allows you to know where inequities lie,” Rushovich said. “It’s a first step that is important to at least make visible vulnerable groups and what resources should be devoted.”