Cohabitation in the family and higher risk of COVID mortality. No certain relationship

Unifi-led study analyzed data from 19 countries

University of Florence
3 min readAug 18, 2020

There is no evidence that the greater diffusion of specific forms of social life in some countries, in particular the cohabitation in the family between members of different generations, is among the main causes of the higher incidence of mortality from COVID 19 in those same countries.

This is highlighted by an international demographic study, just published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), coordinated by Bruno Arpino of the Department of Statistics, Informatics, Applications, and in which Valeria Bordone of the University of Vienna and Marta Pasqualini of the Pompeu Fabra University of Barcelona participated as well.

The high mortality rate observed in some countries, such as Italy, linked to the high prevalence of infected elderly people, has led to speculate — as some scholars did at the beginning of the pandemic — that co-residence and close contact between people of different generations were a diffusion factor of COVID-19 of particular relevance to explain the uneven impact of the virus between different countries.

Using data from 19 European countries, the researchers analyzed the association between lethality rate and number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants with different indicators of intergenerational relationships. Looking at the national data, it was observed, explains Arpino, that “the countries where it is more common for adult children to live with parents, COVID-19 lethality and the prevalence of cases tended to be higher”. But the regional data referring to the same country have offered a different, indeed opposite result. “For example, in Italy, the regions most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic were among those in which intergenerational co-residence was the lowest”.

The results at subnational level therefore contradict previous hypotheses on the role of intergenerational relations in explaining the different COVID-19 lethality between different countries.

“Our analysis — underline Arpino, Bordone and Pasqualini — highlights the risks of over-interpreting the correlations at national level. Correct identification of the factors that contribute to explaining the spread and lethality of COVID-19 is of fundamental importance, but at the moment there is no empirical evidence to support the idea that intergenerational relationships are a key factor in the unequal spread of the pandemic between different geographic areas.”

In their study, the researchers also highlight the risk of focusing attention only on the risks of virus transmission due to physical contacts between family members. “However, there is the risk of neglecting the fundamental role of family relationships as a source of emotional and instrumental support,” comments Arpino. “Theoretically, this support may even encourage compliance with the restrictions imposed during the lockdown and post-lockdown phases, thus limiting the spread and mortality due to COVID-19. In addition, stronger family support can reduce the likelihood of older people to live in nursing homes, which have played a crucial role in the spread of COVID-19 cases.”

Since social contacts do not necessarily require physical co-presence and at the same time physical co-presence does not imply social contact, “we suggest replacing the term social distance with the more appropriate physical distance when referring to measures dedicated to limiting the risk of virus transmission,” conclude Arpino, Bordone and Pasqualini.



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