Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, gbaa114


© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America.

Accepted manuscript


Objectives: The aim of this evidence-based theoretically informed essay is to provide an overview of how and why the COVID-19 outbreak is particularly detrimental for the health of older Black and Latinx adults.

Methods: We draw upon current events, academic literature, and numerous data sources to illustrate how biopsychosocial factors place older adults at higher risk for COVID-19 relative to younger adults, and how structural racism magnifies these risks for older Black and Latinx adults.

Results: We identify three proximate mechanisms through which structural racism operates as a fundamental cause of racial/ethnic inequalities in COVID-19 burden among older adults: (1) Risk of exposure; (2) Weathering processes; and (3) Health care access and quality.

Discussion: While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis, the racial/ethnic health inequalities among older adults it has exposed are long-standing and deeply rooted in structural racism within American society. This knowledge presents both challenges and opportunities for researchers and policymakers as they seek to address the needs of older adults. It is imperative that federal, state, and local governments collect and release comprehensive data on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths by race/ethnicity and age to better gauge the impact of outbreak across minority communities. We conclude with a discussion of incremental steps to be taken to lessen the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 among older Black and Latinx adults, as well as the need for transformative actions that address structural racism in order to achieve population health equity.