How Age Structure of a Country Affects COVID-19 Mortality Rates

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In pre-print, a study from researchers with Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, University of Oxford, and Nuffield College, UK, looks at how demographics play a role in the fatality rates of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Since COVID-19 has a much higher mortality rate among older adults, countries with aging populations like Italy have a much higher risk of a higher death rate among residents.

How Population Structure and Intergenerational Contacts Spiked Italy’s Mortality Rate from Coronavirus

Compared to many countries, Italy has an aging population structure, making it one of the oldest in the world. 23.3% % of Italy’s population is 65 and older and the median age in Italy is 47.3 years. In addition, researchers noted that Italy has an intergenerational living structure.

Many families support each other by either living together (e.g. grandparents, parents, and children all live in the same house) and/or maintaining close contacts with relatives on a daily basis.

Researchers believe that the vulnerability of older adults in Italy to the coronavirus coupled with frequently and daily contact with younger members of their immediate family helped to accelerate the outbreak in Italy.

In countries with younger populations or where the outbreak is centered within a younger demographic, such as the South Korean outbreak among the young recruits of the Schincheonji religious group, the fatality rate is much lower, per researchers.

The graph below compares two Italy to South Korea and Nigeria to Brazil to show how two countries with similar populations sizes but different age structures can have vastly different mortality rates from the novel coronavirus.

These population structures highlight the relationship between aging populations and mortality rates from the novel coronavirus.  Source: Beam Down et al., 2020.
These population structures highlight the relationship between aging populations and mortality rates from the novel coronavirus. Source: Beam Down et al., 2020.

How Social Distancing Can Help to Lower Transmission and Fatality Rates

In performing their research, the authors of this study were able to highlight how social distancing affected via a lockdown can dramatically reduce the rate of new coronavirus cases.

The Italian city of Lodi was the first to confirm a case of the coronavirus and enacted a lockdown on February 23. Another Italian city, Bergamo, waited until March 8 to enact a lockdown.

This graph shows how the early social distancing efforts of Lodi helped to flatten the transmission curve as compared to Bergamo which experienced a much larger spike in coronavirus cases.

Number of coronavirus cases in Lodi versus Bergamo.  Source: Beam Dowd et al., 2020.
Number of coronavirus cases in Lodi versus Bergamo. Source: Beam Dowd et al., 2020.

The study

Jennifer Beam Dowd*, Valentina Rotondi, Liliana Andriano, David M. Brazel, Per Block, Xuejie Ding, Yan Liu, Melinda C. Mills. 2020 (in pre-print). Demographic science aids in understanding the spread and fatality rates of COVID-19. Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, University of Oxford & Nuffield College, UK. Retrieved from https://osf.io/fd4rh/?view_only=c2f00dfe3677493faa421fc2ea38e295

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