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The First COVID Wave: Comparing Experiences of Adults Age 50 and Older in the U.S. and Europe

Thomas Barnay, Visiting Professor in Economics, and Éric Defebvre of Sorbonne University have published an issue brief, “The First COVID Wave: Comparing Experiences of Adults Age 50 and Older in the U.S. and Europe” in The Commonwealth Fund.


  • Issue: The first wave of COVID-19, from March to September 2020, had significant health, social, and financial consequences for older Americans and their European peers. Comparing their COVID-19 experiences is important for understanding the variable impacts of the pandemic.
  • Goals: Analyze and compare how older adults, who are more vulnerable to the health consequences of COVID-19, were affected during the first wave of COVID-19. We examined how adults in 29 countries were affected by four adverse COVID-19 experiences: being infected with or hospitalized because of COVID-19; forgoing care; experiencing the death of a friend or relative from COVID-19; and losing a job.
  • Methods: Responses to three representative and longitudinal household surveys, involving nearly 44,700 adults age 50 and older in the United States and 28 European countries, were analyzed for our assessment of impact: the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), and the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE).
  • Key Findings and Conclusion: During the first COVID-19 wave, older Americans were much more likely than their European peers to report at least one of the four adverse COVID-19 experiences we studied. These experiences could have lasting effects on older adults in the U.S.

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