Why so Many Deaths of Coronavirus in Italy

World Value Survey data on the share of people aged 30-49 who live with their parents to show that fatality rates are initially higher in countries with more intergenerational interactions. It provides a warning for how important it is for countries where the elderly and the young live close together in particular to try to contain the virus early on.

In Italy, the elderly often take care of their grandchildren and, in general, have frequent contacts with their children and their families. This is not the case in many other countries in the world. Some scholars have tried to cross-match these factors with the lethality of the recent coronavirus epidemic. A few days ago a preliminary study was published by Jennifer Beam Dowd, epidemiologist and demographer of the University of Oxford, which examines the Italian case. The analysis was published in preview, pending review.

“According to the latest data available from the Italian National Institute of Statistics – the document reads -, the iteration of young and old in Italy concerns more than half of the population in the northern regions. These intergenerational interactions, co-residence and commuting patterns may have accelerated the epidemic in Italy.

Two professors of economics from the University of Bonn, Christian Bayer and Moritz Kuhn, came to the same conclusion with respect to family relationships. Their hypothesis is that differences in social interactions play a key role in the spread of the epidemic and consequently in lethality. They write: “Suppose that in the country A almost all interactions take place within a single group of people: that is, people of working age find themselves among themselves and the elderly do the same with peers. In country B, the interaction takes place between generations: young and old live together and interact, for example, with the care of grandchildren or young workers who still live with their mothers as they cannot afford to live alone “.

Moritz Kuhn : Our starting point are the large differences in case fatality rates (CFRs) across countries. As of 12 March, Italy had one of 6% while countries like Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany have rates still close to zero (top panel of Figure 1, which shows countries with at least 100 cases as of 12 March). These differences persisted as of 15 March (bottom panel of Figure 1, which shows countries with at least 200 cases as of 15 March).

Figure 1 Case fatality rates across countries

a) Countries with at least 100 cases as of 12 March

The percentage of people aged 30-49 who live with their parents in each country (source Moritz Kuhn)



The two scholars, in the analysis dated 13 March, took the data of the World Value Surveye and calculated the percentage of people between 30-49 years old who live with their parents for each country.,

Moritz Kuhn: Our idea for the relationship between social interaction and the spreading of the virus is simple. Suppose that in country A, almost all interaction is within one group of people – i.e. working age people interact mostly among themselves and a second group of people, the elderly, do the same (top panel of Figure 2). At the same time, in country B, interaction is often across generations. The young and the old live together and interact – for example, for childcare – or young workers still live with their parents as they cannot afford to live on their own (bottom panel of Figure 2). If COVID-19 has been imported to Europe through work-related travel, then a country of type A should see an initially much more contained outbreak, with much less need for intensive care and many fewer fatalities relative to the size of the outbreak. This correlation is what we explore in our analysis.

Figure 2 Stylised social structures:


The share is less than 5% in France, Switzerland and the Netherlands, while in Japan, China, South Korea and Italy there are shares above 20%. “This is what this value looks like – they write – when we compare it with the mortality rate (CFR) for all industrialized economies with over 100 cases (since 12 March). Italy stands out in both charts. What seems to be that the structure of social interactions is important and that social distancing must concern the elderly in particular “. The researchers also explain that the interaction effect between generations will probably disappear over time as the virus spreads to the whole population, but they warn the countries where there are frequent contacts between children-grandparents-grandchildren to take appropriate measures (in Europe in particular are Serbia, Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia).


Countries with multiple parent-child interactions and COVID-19 mortality rate (source Moritz Kuhn)


Reviewer overview

Why so Many Deaths of Coronavirus in Italy - /10


Why so Many Deaths of Coronavirus in Italy? "Interactions Between Grandparents and Grandchildren"

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