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Transatlantic excess mortality comparisons in the pandemic

Updated: Sep 1

Janine Aron and John Muellbauer in a new preprint (pending at medRxiv) assess how to make valid comparisons of excess mortality between the U.S. and Europe during the pandemic. This focus was inspired by their recent work with Dr. Jessica McDonald of FactCheck.org on recent high-profile U.S. vs. Europe comparisons.

Building on their earlier primer on excess mortality in European countries, their preferred measure for comparing excess mortality is the P-score ratio (i.e. deaths above ‘normal’ and expressed as a percentage of ‘normal’ deaths). Aron and Muellbauer find that up to the most recently available week at the end of June, Europe experienced a 22 percent lower rate of excess mortality than the U.S.. This contradicts recent public claims that it was 33 percent higher. They use data from Our World in Data, the Human Mortality Database and the U.S. CDC.  Given the later spread of the pandemic in much of the U.S., comprising over 60 percent of its population, the comparisons made later this year are likely to be even more unfavourable to the U.S.. The U.S. Northeast is the region most comparable with individual European countries in terms of timing of the pandemic, population density, age composition and urban structure. This region experienced a far higher rate of excess mortality during the peak weeks than the worst-affected countries in Europe. For example, compared with Spain, the Northeast region had 28 percent proportionately-worse excess mortality (i.e. a P-score of 76.2 percent versus 54.9 percent for Spain).


Janine Aron and John Muellbauer are Senior Fellows of the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School and associate members of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science.


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