Disparities in Vulnerability to Severe Complications from COVID-19 in the United States


  • Emily Wiemers
  • Scott Abrahams
  • Marwa AlFakhri
  • V. Joseph Hotz
  • Robert Schoeni
  • Judith Seltzer


This paper provides the first nationally representative estimates of vulnerability to severe complications from COVID-19 overall and across race-ethnicity and socioeconomic status. We use the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to examine the prevalence of specific health conditions associated with complications from COVID-19 and to calculate, for each individual, an index of the risk of severe complications from respiratory infections developed by DeCaprio et al. (2020). We show large disparities across race-ethnicity and socioeconomic status in the prevalence of conditions which are associated with the risk of severe complications from COVID-19. Moreover, we show that these disparities emerge early in life, prior to age 65, leading to higher vulnerability to such complications. While vulnerability is highest among older adults regardless of their race-ethnicity or socioeconomic status, our results suggest particular attention should also be given to the risk of adverse outcomes in midlife for non-Hispanic Blacks, adults with a high school degree or less, and low-income Americans.


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