How Will COVID Affect the Mortality of Older Adults?

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Gal Wettstein, Anqi Chen, and Alicia H. Munnell, Boston College

The mortality burden of the COVID-19 pandemic was particularly heavy among older adults, racial and ethnic minorities, and those with underlying health conditions. These groups are known to have higher mortality rates than others even in the absence of COVID. Using data from the 2019 American Community Survey, the 2018 Health and Retirement Study, and the 2020 National Vital Statistics System, this paper estimates how much lower the overall mortality rate will be for those who lived through the acute phase of the early pandemic after accounting for this selection effect of those who died from COVID. Such selection may have implications for life insurance and annuity premiums, as well as assessments of the financial standing of Social Security – if the selection is large enough to substantially alter projected survivor mortality.