Journal Article

Variation in mortality burden of the COVID-19 pandemic across federal states in Germany

European Journal of Public Health, 1–7 (2023)
Open Access


Background: Intra-annual excess mortality is the most reliable measure of losses of lives due to short-term risk factors. The objectives of our study are (i) to estimate excess mortality across German states in the course of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic years 2020 and 2021 and (ii) to identify possible regional-level determinants of spatial inequality in pandemic-related excess mortality.

Methods: We use weekly mortality data series for the calculation of weekly death rates, standardized by age for each federal state of Germany. We estimate the expected level of mortality as state-specific mortality trends and excess mortality in 2020 and 2021. We explore ecological statistical relationships between excess mortality, COVID-19 morbidity, and selected regional socioeconomic indicators using fixed-effects regression models.

Results: Our study shows that during the first pandemic year, there was South-to-North gradient in excess mortality in Germany, with excess mortality being higher in the South. Over the course of the second pandemic year 2021, this gradient changed to become an East-to-West gradient, with excess mortality being higher in the East. The results of the study show stronger effects of COVID-19 morbidity on excess mortality in East Germany. State-level indicators reflecting economic activity, employment, and capacity of intensive care units show significant correlations with excess mortality across the states.

Conclusions: The results show pronounced state-level differences in the magnitude of excess mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany. Economic activity, employment and capacity of intensive care units were the most important state-level characteristics associated with the observed spatial variations in excess mortality.

Keywords: Germany, differential mortality, excess mortality
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.