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Elizabeth Wrigley-Field: The Deaths America Treats as Normal
January 29 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
On January 29, 2021, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and a Faculty Member of the Minnesota Population Center, will present “The Deaths America Treats as Normal” as part of the Carolina Population Center’s 2020-21 Interdisciplinary Research Seminar Series. This year, the CPC Interdisciplinary Research Seminars will be open to both CPC members and Social Epidemiology program members.
This talk explores racial disparities in mortality during U.S. pandemics, using the 1918 flu and COVID-19 pandemics to develop general frameworks for understanding inequality in pandemic experiences—and what they reveal about inequality during ordinary, non-pandemic times. The first part of the talk considers racial disparities during the most devastating respiratory pandemic of the 20th century, the 1918 flu; shows that those disparities were surprisingly small; and develops new hypotheses, grounded in social immunology, to account for this anomaly. The second part of the talk pivots from 1918 to 2020. During the 1918 pandemic, U.S. white mortality was still lower than U.S. Black mortality had been nearly every year. Today, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the same pattern holds: for white mortality in 2020 to reach the best-ever Black mortality levels would take 400,000 excess deaths among whites. Using pandemic mortality as a measuring stick for racial disparities offers a new perspective on the measures we do — and do not — embrace in order to combat racial inequality. I use demographic mortality models to make a new, demographically based case for reparations for racism.
Elizabeth Wrigley-Field is a sociologist and demographer at the University of Minnesota, specializing in racial inequality in mortality and historical infectious disease. She is also a quantitative methodologist, developing models designed to clarify relationships between micro and macro perspectives on demographic relationships.