Office of Public Affairs

USM researcher working to understand gender and race difference among COVID-19 deaths

portrait of Heather Shattuck-Heidorn

Researchers at the University of Southern Maine and Harvard University have released a new report examining COVID-19 deaths and their discovery that African-American women are dying at rates higher than men in other racial and ethnic groups.

Heather Shattuck-Heidorn, an assistant professor of Women and Gender Studies at USM, served as the senior author of the article, just published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“My hope is that we won’t forget how pre-existing structural inequities totally drove and impacted who was affected by this pandemic,” Shattuck-Heidorn said. She currently teaches at USM and works with the Harvard School of Public Health’s GenderSci Lab. The co-authors of the recent paper were the lab’s director, Sarah Richardson, and Harvard PhD student Tamara Rushovich, who also served as the lead author.

Together, the researchers examined census data and publicly available data from Michigan and Georgia, the only two states reporting data disaggregated by age, race, and sex, to calculate and compare COVID-19 mortality rates.

Their findings included:

  • Black women have COVID-19 mortality rates that are almost 4 times higher than that of white men and 3 times higher than that of Asian men, as well as higher than white and Asian women.
  • Black men have far higher mortality rates than any other sex and racial group, including over 6 times higher than the rate among white men. 
  • The disparity in mortality rates between Black women and white women is over 3 times the disparity between white men and white women.

A 2020 study, written about in the New York Times, aimed to understand why, in the overall US population, more men than women are dying from COVID-19.

Shattuck-Heidorn is a USM alumna. She earned her bachelor’s degree at USM, graduating Magna cum Laude in 2009 with a Geography-Anthropology B.A.  In 2013, she earned a master’s degree in Human Evolutionary Biology from Harvard University. In 2017, she earned a doctorate at Harvard in Human Evolutionary Biology and had a secondary field: Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality.

She co-founded the Harvard GenderSci Lab.