Andrew T. Levin, Kensington B. Cochran, Seamus P. Walsh

Bibliographic Information

NBER Working Paper No. 27597
Issued in July 2020, Revised in July 2020
NBER Program(s):HC, HE

This paper was revised on July 30, 2020

Available Formats


This paper assesses the age specificity of the infection fatality rate (IFR) for COVID-19. Our benchmark meta-regression synthesizes the age-specific IFRs from six recent large-scale seroprevalence studies conducted in Belgium, Geneva, Indiana, New York, Spain, and Sweden. The estimated IFR is close to zero for children and younger adults but rises exponentially with age, reaching about 0.3 percent for ages 50-59, 1.3 percent for ages 60-69, 4.6 percent for ages 70-79, and 25 percent for ages 80 and above. We compare those predictions to the age-specific IFRs implied by recent seroprevalence estimates for nine other U.S. locations, three smale-scale studies, and three countries (Iceland, New Zealand, and Republic of Korea) that have engaged in comprehensive tracking and tracing of COVID-19 infections. We also review seroprevalence studies of 32 other locations whose design was not well-suited for estimating age-specific IFRs. Our findings indicate that COVID-19 is not just dangerous for the elderly and infirm but also for healthy middle-aged adults, for whom the fatality rate is more than 50 times greater than the risk of dying in an automobile accident. Consequently, the overall IFR for a given location is intrinsically linked to the age-specific pattern of infections. In a scenario where the U.S. infection rate reaches 20 percent, our analysis indicates that protecting vulnerable age groups could prevent more than 200,000 deaths.

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