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Explained: Are men more vulnerable to Covid? It’s not so simple when race is factored in

A new study has found that societal backgrounds play a greater role in disease outcomes than gender does.

Written by Kabir Firaque | New Delhi |
Updated: April 23, 2021 7:54:29 am
Covid-19 testing in India amid the second wave (File Photo)

Since the early stages of the pandemic, it has been clear that men are more vulnerable to Covid-19: they have fallen ill more frequently than women, and their death rates too have been higher. But a new study has found that societal backgrounds play a greater role in disease outcomes than gender does.

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The study, carried out on men and women in two US states, has been published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Like several previous studies, this one too found that men are more susceptible to Covid-19 than men — but within the same racial group. For example, Black women were found to be up to 4 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than white men are. Black women are also three times more likely to die of Covid-19 than Asian American men are. Yet Black women were less susceptible than Black men, White women less than White men, and Asian women less than Asian American men.

The study looked at both genders for three racial groups — white, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander. Across the six groups defined by both race and sex, Black men were found to have the highest Covid-19 mortality rates — up to six times higher than the rates among white men.

These findings, the researchers said, strongly suggest that structural inequities in society are a principal factor in driving disparities in Covid-19 health outcomes across and between social groups.

The researchers used statistics through late September 2020 from Georgia and Michigan, the only two US states that collected data tabulating age, race, and gender for all individual Covid-19 patients. Overall, they found similar patterns in both Georgia and Michigan.

The authors cited limitations in the availability of data, and the fact that Michigan listed both “probable” and “confirmed” deaths while Georgia listed only “confirmed” deaths. Also, they wrote, examination of these data in relation to variables such as occupation, state-level policies, neighborhood characteristics, and socioeconomic status is required to situate outcomes in intersecting systems of power and oppression”.

The study found that in Michigan, the mortality rate for Black men was 1.7 times greater than the rate for Black women; among whites, the mortality rate was only 1.3 times greater for men than for women. That variation likely shows the relative importance of social inequalities rather than biology, they said.

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