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Lives and livelihoods: estimates of the global mortality and poverty effects of the Covid-19 pandemic

Decerf, Benoit, Ferreira, Francisco H.G., Mahler, Daniel G. and Sterck, Olivier (2021) Lives and livelihoods: estimates of the global mortality and poverty effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. World Development, 146. ISSN 0305-750X

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Identification Number: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2021.105561


We evaluate the global welfare consequences of increases in mortality and poverty generated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Increases in mortality are measured in terms of the number of years of life lost (LY) to the pandemic. Additional years spent in poverty (PY) are conservatively estimated using growth estimates for 2020 and two different scenarios for its distributional characteristics. Using years of life as a welfare metric yields a single parameter that captures the underlying trade-off between lives and livelihoods: how many PYs have the same welfare cost as one LY. Taking an agnostic view of this parameter, we compare estimates of LYs and PYs across countries for different scenarios. Three main findings arise. First, we estimate that, as of early June 2020, the pandemic (and the observed private and policy responses) had generated at least 68 million additional poverty years and 4.3 million years of life lost across 150 countries. The ratio of PYs to LYs is very large in most countries, suggesting that the poverty consequences of the crisis are of paramount importance. Second, this ratio declines systematically with GDP per capita: poverty accounts for a much greater share of the welfare costs in poorer countries. Finally, a comparison of these baseline results with mortality estimates in a counterfactual “herd immunity” scenario suggests that welfare losses would be greater in the latter in most countries.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank
Divisions: International Inequalities Institute
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
JEL classification: D - Microeconomics > D6 - Welfare Economics > D63 - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
I - Health, Education, and Welfare > I3 - Welfare and Poverty > I32 - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty
O - Economic Development, Technological Change, and Growth > O1 - Economic Development > O15 - Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2021 15:57
Last Modified: 17 Nov 2021 01:05

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