30/06/2020

Too many, too soon

Ranking topics: Highest median age

It is now well-known that, although covid-19 can strike even the very young, older folk face the greatest risk. In hard-hit rich countries, about 60% of all deaths from the disease are among people aged 80 and over. America, however, is an exception. Data released on June 16th by the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) show that the country’s death toll skews significantly younger. There, people in their 80s account for less than half of all covid-19 deaths; people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, meanwhile, account for a significantly larger share of those who die. The median covid-19 sufferer in America is a 48-year-old; in Italy it is a 63-year-old.

Why is America such an outlier? Part of the explanation surely lies in the fact that America has a younger population than Europe does. America’s median age is just 38; Italy’s is 45. Another reason, perhaps, is that middle-aged Americans may be less healthy than their European peers, eg, because they tend to be more obese.

Whatever the cause, the relative youthfulness of America’s covid-19 victims means that the coronavirus is robbing Americans of more years of precious life. A recent study by a group of Scottish researchers estimated the number of years of life lost to covid-19 by age, taking account of the victims’ underlying health conditions. It found that in Italy, people who died in their 50s, 60s, and 70s typically lost 30, 21, and 12 years, respectively. Those in their 80s lost five years, on average.

Applying these estimates to the victims of America’s outbreak, a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that covid-19 has so far shortened the lives of its American victims by 11 years, on average, compared with about nine years in the hardest-hit European countries. America may not yet have reached the same rate of covid-19 deaths as the likes of Britain, Spain and Italy. But the contagion in America is far from contained. Anthony Fauci, one of the experts in charge of America’s response, has warned of a “disturbing surge” in new infections in parts of the country. And when the age profile is factored in, there is even more reason for Americans to be disturbed.

This article is from our Graphic detail section