Sex disparities in COVID-19 deaths hide high toll on Black women

Around the world, more men than women have died from COVID-19. But focusing on differences between sexes without also looking at race and other variables may obscure important determinants of individual risk, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Tamara Rushovich, PhD ’25, and colleagues at Harvard’s GenderSci Lab.

In an analysis of COVID-19 deaths by race and sex in Georgia and Michigan, the researchers found that Black women died at more than three times the rates of white men and Asian men. The only other group more likely to die from the disease was Black men.

The study was published April 5, 2021, in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Although researchers have assumed that the disparity in COVID-19 mortality between men and women is a result of biology, intersecting factors such as race, age, and socioeconomic status may be more important, Rushovich and Sarah Richardson, director of the GenderSci Lab, wrote in an April 5, 2021, opinion piece in the Boston Globe. Historical discrimination shapes these factors, making certain groups more likely to have been in poor health prior to the pandemic, for example, or to be overrepresented in occupations at high risk of exposure to the virus.

The researchers wrote, “Without looking at the intersections between gender and race, the blanket claim that women with COVID-19 fare better than men makes invisible the high death rate among Black women.”

Co-authors of the study include Jarvis Chen, lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, and Ann Caroline Danielsen, MPH ’21.

Read Boston Globe opinion piece: The intersection of Black women, COVID, and death rates

Learn more

More men than women are dying from COVID-19. Why? (Harvard Chan School news)