Gender/Sex Disparities in COVID-19 Outcomes


Goals & Objectives

Data suggest that, in aggregate, men are dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than women. How can we interpret and make sense of this disparity? This analytical toolkit provides resources for unpacking and understanding apparent sex disparities in COVID-19 outcomes. Students are challenged to think critically about the causal primacy granted to biological sex in attempts to explain the gender/sex gap in COVID-19 mortality. Additionally, the toolkit offers a variety of social and demographic factors as alternative ways of understanding, investigating, and talking about inequities in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Intended Audience

Introductory-level gender studies, feminist science studies, and health sciences courses.

Geopolitical Scope

Data and case examples are drawn from the United States, but the analytical principles can be applied to query sex disparities in COVID-19 outcomes in other contexts.

Why teach about sex disparities in COVID-19 outcomes through a critical lens?

A focus on biological sex may underplay the contribution of gender-related and other social factors to COVID-19 disparities, misdirecting public health efforts. By the same token, decontextualized statistics about sex differences in cases and deaths from COVID-19 can reinforce biological sex-essentialist stereotypes.

Both biological and social factors, and interactions between the two, may play a role in shaping the observed patterns of COVID-19 outcomes. Discussions of sex disparities in COVID-19 outcomes often emphasize biological factors, even suggesting that differential treatment avenues or vaccine regimes for individuals of different sexes should be pursued. This toolkit emphasizes that evidence from prior infectious disease epidemics, including closely-related coronaviruses, demonstrates that gendered factors such as occupation, lifestyle, and comorbidities, along with interacting social variables such as racism and socioeconomic class are likely the primary contributors to apparent sex disparities in COVID-19.