• Last updated: Fri, Nov 10, 2023Status: Published
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  • Adam Altmejd, Evelina Björkegren, Torsten Persson, and Olof Östergren

Inequality and COVID-19 in Sweden: Relative risks of nine bad life events, by four social gradients, in pandemic vs. prepandemic years

The COVID-19 pandemic struck societies directly and indirectly, not just challenging population health but disrupting many aspects of life. Different effects of the spreading virus—and the measures to fight it—are reported and discussed in different scientific fora, with hard-to-compare methods and metrics from different traditions. While the pandemic struck some groups more than others, it is difficult to assess the comprehensive impact on social inequalities. This paper gauges social inequalities using individual-level administrative data for Sweden’s entire population. We describe and analyze the relative risks for different social groups in four dimensions—gender, education, income, and world region of birth—to experience three types of COVID-19 incidence, as well as six additional negative life outcomes that reflect general health, access to medical care, and economic strain. During the pandemic, the overall population faced severe morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 and saw higher all-cause mortality, income losses and unemployment risks, as well as reduced access to medical care. These burdens fell more heavily on individuals with low income or education and on immigrants. Although these vulnerable groups experienced larger absolute risks of suffering the direct and indirect consequences of the pandemic, the relative risks in pandemic years (2020 and 2021) were conspicuously similar to those in prepandemic years (2016 to 2019).

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