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Young Americans have collectively lost more years of life because of the pandemic than old Americans

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This is a followup to yesterday’s post, which pointed out that COVID pandemic has had a more severe effect on the mortality rates of young people than on those of old people. (Again all these numbers are from the American context. It would be interesting to learn how characteristic that context is in terms of the global pandemic).

A lot of the comments to that post seemed uncertain about what this claim means, so here are a couple of specific numbers to concretize it.

During the pandemic, the mortality rate among people 85 and older has gone from 13,211 to 14,632 per 100,000. That’s a 10.8% increase.

Meanwhile, the mortality rate among people 25-44 has gone from 127 to 168 per 100,000. That’s a 32.2% increase.

Now a lot of people thought these percentages were basically misleading, because the baseline mortality rate is so much higher among the elderly than the young, so “therefore” an 11% increase in mortality in the former cohort is much more meaningful as a practical matter than a 32% increase in the latter group.

About that . . .

Here’s a very straightforward calculation of the total years of life lost among various age cohorts because of the pandemic. Note that this calculation includes all deaths during the pandemic, not just COVID deaths. As yesterday’s post lays out, all and indeed more than all of the excess mortality in elderly cohorts is accounted for by official COVID deaths, while actually very little — less than a quarter — of excess mortality among young adults is accounted for by official COVID deaths. More on that shortly.

Note also that this calculation includes no value judgment whether each year of life lost for a 30 year old should be considered more valuable than each year of life lost for a 90 year old. No “ageism” in this post folks — just the very cold facts.

(1) 6.86 million Americans were 85 or older in 2020. The mortality rate for this cohort increased by 1,421 per 100,000 between the spring of 2020 and the spring of 2021. This gives us an excess death toll for this cohort of 1,421 X 68.6 during the first year of the pandemic, i.e., 97,481.

(2) From the 2020 age pyramid of the US population, we can estimate that the average age of this cohort was about 90 for men and 92 for women. Actuarial tables suggest that the average pre-pandemic life expectancy of people in this cohort was around 4.16 years. Multiplying 97,481 by this number gives us an estimate of the life years lost in this cohort during the first year of the pandemic of 405,519.

(3) Running the same numbers for 25-34 year olds, we have 46.87 million people, whose mortality risk rose by 41/100K during the first year of the pandemic. This gives us 19,188 excess deaths in this cohort, whose members had an average pre-pandemic life expectancy of almost exactly 50 years. This yields an estimated total of years of life lost in the first year of the pandemic in this cohort of 959,400.

I’ve done the same calculation throughout the age pyramid, with these results:

110,080 excess deaths among 75-84 year olds.

1,012,737 years of life lost among 75-84 year olds.

110,670 excess deaths among 65-74 year olds.

1,715,340 years of life lost among 65-74 year olds.

75,460 excess deaths among 55-64 year olds.

1,754,445 years of life lost among people 55-64.

41,715 excess deaths among 45-54 year olds

1,334,880 years of life lost among 45-54 year olds

28,006 excess deaths among 35-44 year olds.

1,148,246 years of life lost among 35-44 year olds.

8,744 excess deaths among 15-24 year olds.

524,610 years of life lost among 15-24 year olds.

There were no excess deaths in the population below age 15 in the first year of the pandemic.

You can slice these numbers up in a lot of ways, but it’s pretty obvious that characterizing just the mortality risk from the COVID pandemic in America as something that is largely confined to old people is very misleading.

Note for instance that the total number years of life lost from the pandemic’s effects — again, not just from COVID alone — among people 15-44 years old is about double the number of years of life lost among people 75 or older, and not much smaller than the number of years of life lost among everyone 65 and older. And if we define “old” as 65 and older, the number of years of life lost in the non-old population as a result of the pandemic is vastly larger than the number of years of life lost in the old population.

And of course this doesn’t even begin to touch on the fact that things like long COVID are by their nature going to have a much more devastating long-term impact on young Americans than on old ones.

Here’s a final stat that drives home that the increased mortality risk created by the pandemic has been much more severe among young adults.

How far back in the nation’s medical history do we have to go to find the same mortality rate among people 65 or older that we saw during the first year of the pandemic? The answer is: 2006.

How far back do we have to go to find the same mortality rate among people 25 to 34 years old that we saw during the first year of the pandemic? The answer is: 1952.

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