Race/ Ethnicity and COVID-19

Rusi Jaspal, Glynis M. Breakwell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


In several Western countries, such as the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (US), individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups appeared to be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and also exhibited a higher incidence of severe illness and mortality. Initially, there was much speculation about the possible epidemiological causes, with some researchers highlighting biological causes and others behavioral causes. Khunti (2020) noted that socioeconomic, cultural and lifestyle factors, as well as pathophysiological factors (e.g., prevalence of vitamin D deficiency) may all be contributing variables. Subsequent research also revealed a greater risk of other health sequelae, such as poor mental health, in racial and ethnic minority individuals (Jaspal & Lopes, 2021).
Despite the higher incidence of ill health and mortality in racial and ethnic minorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, empirical research during the initial outbreaks inadequately reported on race/ ethnicity even when this was asked about (Raghav et al., 2021). In other cases, population samples tended to include relatively small samples of specific racial and ethnic minority groups which precluded analysis of intergroup differences on key variables (Jaspal et al., 2022). Furthermore, studies used various categories to refer to racial and ethnic minorities, such as “people of color” in the US, “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic” or “BAME” in the UK and “White” in both countries, thereby homogenizing very diverse groups of people. On the whole, studies have used more specific categories, such as “Asian” or “Latino”, inconsistently. All this limits the ability to draw firm conclusions about the differential impact of race and ethnicity upon COVID-19 health outcomes. Yet, some valuable research has been conducted in this area which enables us to begin to understand the multifarious effects of the pandemic on particular racial and ethnic groups and the likelihood of engaging in various preventive behaviors. Much of this work has been conducted in the UK and USA, which is the focus of this chapter.
Accordingly, key empirical research into three areas of race, ethnicity and COVID-19 is discussed, namely (1) the relationship between race/ ethnicity and COVID-19 physical health outcomes; (2) the impact of the pandemic on mental health in racial and ethnic minorities; and (3) reported engagement in COVID-19 preventive and vaccination behaviors in racial and ethnic minorities. The chapter concludes by highlighting the main social psychological factors that appear to contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in relation to COVID-19.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior, and Society
EditorsW.C. Cockerham, J. Gabe, S. Quah, J.M. Ryan
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023

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