Coronavirus: Mortality varies widely - is the form of living together responsible?

Coronavirus: Mortality varies widely - is the form of living together responsible?

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Do social conditions determine the COVID-19 death rate?

A German research team looked for reasons why the mortality caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 varies so much from country to country. While the death rate in Germany on March 15, 2020 was below 0.3 percent, the mortality rate in Italy at the same time was around six percent. The researchers see a possible cause for these differences in the form of living together and social interaction.

In Italy, 60 people die from 1,000 COVID-19 sufferers - in Germany there are only three. How do such huge differences come about? Professor Dr. Christian Bayer and Professor Dr. Moritz Kuhn from the Institute for Macroeconomics and Econometrics at the University of Bonn are trying to find answers to this question.

Do social conditions determine the death rate?

Across different countries, the two economists at the University of Bonn compared the role of social structures with mortality rates in COVID-19 infections. They came to the conclusion that the more employees live with their parents, the higher the proportion of corona deaths at the beginning of the epidemic.

Multi-generation household as the cause of increased mortality?

In Italy, the family structure is shaped by the following picture: The grandparents live in the house and participate in childcare while the parents go to work. In Italy, the multi-generation household model is lived out much more than is the case in Germany. According to the economists, what can be positive from a social perspective could be dangerous during a pandemic.

From the working population to the elderly

In order to make social coexistence measurable, the researchers examined the proportion of 30 to 49 year olds who live with their parents. Both in Europe and worldwide, there were large differences in mortality depending on this factor. The team assumes that the virus came to Europe mainly from the labor force in China and then initially spread mainly to working people.

The way of living together determines the transfer

"If the working population becomes highly infected, it is less dramatic for population structures like in Germany or Scandinavia, where we know less cross-generational forms of living together," explains Kuhn, professor of economics at the University of Bonn.

In countries such as Italy, in which older people often live together with the whole family, the proportion of disease courses with fatal outcome increases significantly. If the older population is seriously affected, there is a risk of a chain reaction that overloads the health system - as we see it in Italy, especially in Bergamo.

Read also: Shocking medical report from Bergamo - Italy's Covid-19 epicenter.

Contradictory trend in Asian countries

The same connection applies to the Asian region, as the two scientists say. The fact that the mortality rates are nevertheless lower is due to an overall younger population and could also be due to other forms of social interaction, such as different greeting rituals. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Christian Bayer, Moritz Kuhn: Intergenerational ties and case fatality rates: A cross-country analysis; 2020, rare. Institutes
  • University of Bonn: Coronavirus: Why Mortality is So Different (published: March 24th, 2020),

Video: Global increases (June 2022).


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