Written by Ian Inkster
In most Western media, interest in the COVID-19 outbreak has been related to government policies, their character, effectiveness and scope, and also their economic cost. Debates about confinement, face masks, social distancing and tragedies in the care centers and among migrant workers have dominated the debates and few general and firm conclusions have been drawn: some governments did better than others, Germany appears to be A star in Europe, East Asian nations seem to deviate from most generalizations, and so on.
In this article, I will make a brief attempt to unfold an underlying factor that generates an unattended trend that seems to offer a much better explanation than the observed differences in government policies for the diverse experiences of nations. For European nations, our argument measures the price of being rich in a world dominated by COVID-19.
The eight richest nations in Europe, each with more than 10 million inhabitants, have recorded a total of more than 1.4 million cases since the European start of the virus in France on January 24. This total of 363 million people have suffered (as of July 13) an average of 4,442 cases per million and 520 deaths per million, compared to the world average of 1,682 per million and 73 deaths per million. The rich nations have suffered much more than the rest of the world; For example, Asia with 2.8 billion inhabitants in China and India alone, has registered three million cases of COVID-19 against 2.6 billion cases among the European population of some 740 million inhabitants.
This is a huge divergence of experience at the current stage of the pandemic, and runs counter to common sense that would imply that the enormous resources of wealthy nations would cushion the effects of COVID-19, in particular its death rates, compared to the poorest nations in the southern hemisphere. Possible explanations are vast, but none have the dramatic impact of the demographic effects of different income levels. The rest of this column demonstrates this through data from our eight wealthy nations.
We all know that COVID-19 has a particular demographic characteristic. Generally, the virus is innocuous among youth, infects the middle-aged, and infects and usually kills those over 65. We don't know exactly the age limits, which will require future analysis. post mortem. There is some evidence that people up to the age of 20 or so may be generally immune to the virus, but also that those over 60 may be especially vulnerable, not only to infection, but are by far the most they are more likely to die from the virus directly or from complications from pre-existing immunodeficiency.
As wealthy nations with high per capita incomes, the eight nations in our example have undergone a demographic transition in which the number of young people declines in proportion to the population, as does the proportion of elderly. Historically, there are many reasons for this, but the main one is the substitution of high income and greater consumption for having children, who in times of poverty would have worked to earn an income or act as family insurance for poor families whose main economic support could not. to work. Once again, higher incomes, better food, and medicine made people live much longer than before. In summary, in our world today, the rich nations have few children and many elders, whereas in the poor nations the exact opposite happens.
The scope of this difference is surprising. In the population of the eight rich nations, the share of young people between 0 and 14 years of age is, on average, 16% and the share of those over 65 years of age is more than 19.9%. We can compare this to two large low-income groups: 16 nations with an average purchasing power parity per capita of $ 8,500, defined by the World Bank as “lowest income,” and a group of 29 nations with an average per capita income of US $ 2,500, defined as “low income”. In the first group, the proportion of people from 0 to 14 years of age is 32.9%, and that of those over 65 years of age is 6.7%. Today COVID-19 statistics are recorded since the onset of the disease of only 523 per million, compared to 4442 in Europe; in relation to deaths there are 28 per million compared to 520 in Europe. Compared to rich Europe, poorer nations have younger and younger, and much less severe effects of COVID-19.
Comparing the portions of the population with the poorest group of 29 nations, the effect of age is staggering: with a large portion of the young (43.8% of the population) and a very small portion of the elderly (3.1% of the population). population), its current number of cases per million is 165, while deaths per million are only 3.78. In short, 1.2 billion people from the 29 low-income countries face a risk of infection that is 165/4442, or 4% compared to our eight European nations. In relation to mortality, the risk is 3.78 / 520, that is, only 1% compared to the richest nations.
Although everyone east of Suez is manipulating their numbers, even though all governments that are not European liberal democracies are completely ineffective at collecting the data or ordering the absolute obedience of their population to conform to an ideal policy package; And even though the current state of affairs will alter as the virus spreads across our land, it seems that being rich comes at a price in a COVID world. The price comes especially with the virus, as high incomes translate into fewer children and older people, and this age distribution faces an overwhelming force from nature.
Within an income group, such as the wealthy in Europe or the poor in Africa, politics could make a difference, as in the cases of Germany or East Asia, which seem to be outpacing the trend. Both have high incomes and age distribution similar to that of rich nations and have performed better with COVID-19. However, we also have to admit that, in addition to politics, there are unalterable differences in borders, population density, and levels of air pollution and a high degree of connectivity between nations that could create significant variations within these income groups.
However, none of this alters the fact that wealthy European nations have the highest incidence and mortality from COVID-19, despite their enormous social and physical infrastructures. Whichever way they have used or abused such advantages in their policies, the results now cannot match those of the poorest part of the world. It seems clear that in a world like COVID-19 there is a global divide taking place based primarily on income and age structures.
Professor Ian Inkster is an international historian and political economist at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He has taught and researched at universities in Great Britain, Australia, Taiwan, and Japan; He is the author of 13 books on Asian and world dynamics with particular attention to industrial and technological development, he has also been editor of History of Technology since 2000. The next books will be “Distracting Capitalism: The World Since 1971” and “Technology invasive and indigenous borders. Monographic study of the accelerated changes in history ”with David Pretel. Follow him on Twitter at @inksterian.