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The Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Elderly: Population Fatality Rates, COVID Mortality Percentage, and Life Expectancy Loss (22-10)

Paula Natalia Barreto Parra, Vladimir Atanasov, Jeffrey Whittle, John Meurer, Qian (Eric) Luo, Ruohao Zhang, and Bernard Black

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the elderly. This working paper provides a detailed analysis of those effects, drawing primarily on individual-level mortality data covering almost three million persons aged 65+ in three Midwest states (Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin). The authors report sometimes surprising findings on population fatality rates (PFR), the ratio of COVID to non-COVID deaths, reported as a percentage, which they call the “COVID Mortality Percentage,” and mean life expectancy loss (LEL), and examine how these metrics vary with age, gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and time period during the pandemic. 

For all persons in the three Midwest areas, COVID PFR through year-end 2021 was 0.22%; mean years of life lost (YLL) was 13.0 years; the COVID Mortality Percentage was 12.4%; and LEL was 0.028 years (11 days). In contrast, for the elderly, PFR was 1.03%; YLL was 8.8 years; the COVID Mortality Percentage was 15.7%; and LEL was 0.091 years (34 days). National estimates for the elderly were similar. Controlling for gender, PFR and LEL were substantially higher for Blacks and Hispanics than for Whites at all ages. Racial/ethnic disparities for the elderly were large early in the pandemic but diminished later. Although COVID-19 mortality was much higher for the elderly, the COVID Mortality Percentage over the full pandemic period was similar for the elderly, at 15.7%, and for non-elderly adults aged 20–64, at 15.6%. Indeed, in 2021, this ratio was lower for the elderly than for the middle-aged, reflecting higher elderly vaccination rates.

Paula Natalia Barreto Parra, Post-Baccalaureate Research Fellow, Northwestern University School of Law

Vladimir Atanasov, Brinkley-Mason Term Professor of Business, William & Mary

Jeffrey Whittle, Professor of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin

John Meurer, Professor of Pediatrics and Community Health, Medical College of Wisconsin

Qian (Eric) Luo, Assistant Research Professor, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University

Ruohao Zhang, Postdoctoral Scholar, Northwestern University School of Law

Bernard Black, Nicholas J. Chabraja Professor and IPR Associate, Northwestern University

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