Introduction Understanding educational patterns in excess mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic may help identify strategies to reduce disparities. It is unclear whether educational inequalities in COVID-19 mortality have persisted throughout the pandemic, spanned the full range of educational attainment, or varied by other demographic indicators of COVID-19 risk, such as age or occupation.
Methods This study analyzed individual-level California Department of Public Health data on deaths occurring between January 2016 and February 2021 among individuals aged ≥25 years (1,502,202 deaths). Authors applied ARIMA (autoregressive integrated moving average) models to subgroups defined by highest level of education and other demographics (age, sex, race/ethnicity, U.S. nativity, occupational sector, and urbanicity). Authors estimated excess deaths (the number of observed deaths minus the number of deaths expected to occur under the counterfactual of no pandemic) and excess deaths per 100,000 individuals.
Results Educational inequalities in excess mortality emerged early in the pandemic and persisted throughout the first year. The greatest per capita excess occurred among people without high school diplomas (533 excess deaths/100,000), followed by those with a high school diploma but no college (466/100,000), some college (156/100,000), Bachelor's degrees (120/100,000) and smallest among people with graduate/professional degrees (101/100,000). Educational inequalities occurred within every subgroup examined. For example, per-capita excess mortality among Latinos with no college experience was 3.7 times higher than among Latinos with at least some college experience.
Conclusions Pervasive educational inequalities in excess mortality during the pandemic suggest multiple potential intervention points to reduce disparities.