The ‘White Male Effect’ in Perceptions of Risk of Dying from COVID-19

General Information

The ‘White Male Effect’ in Perceptions of Risk of Dying from COVID-19
Ekim Luo, Simone Schnall
Publication Type
Working paper
During the COVID-19 pandemic people had to gauge their personal health risks in order to decide which protective behaviors to adopt. We explored whether mortality risk perceptions varied by demographic background. Using data from a nationally representative U.S. survey, we analyzed bi-weekly mortality estimates of 8,339 individuals from April 1, 2020 to July 21, 2021. Consistent with a White Male Effect, White men estimated the risk of death to be lower than White women, non-White men, and non-White women. Furthermore, when linking those estimates to the actual risk of dying from COVID-19, as reflected in official fatality rates recorded by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), White men were indeed less likely to die from the coronavirus than would be expected based on their proportion of the populations. In contrast, deaths in non-White men and non-White women were higher than would be expected. Thus, subjective risk perceptions tracked objective mortality risks. Because White men tend to disproportionally hold positions with high decision-making power, although biased risk estimates may be less likely to have negative consequences for themselves, they may be especially detrimental to those for whom such decisions are made.