Story at a glance

  • The survey found Americans believed people aged 55 and older made up more than half, 57.7 percent, of total coronavirus deaths.
  • Those 55 and older actually made up more than 90 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.
  • Researchers also found that Americans believed people aged 44 and younger made up about 30 percent of total coronavirus deaths, when the actual figure was just less than 3 percent.

The U.S. continues to lead the rest of the world in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths, and some health experts project the nation could see close to 300,000 fatalities by the end of the year. 

Recent research shows, however, that Americans have a significant misunderstanding of the risk of death from COVID-19 when it comes to different age groups. 


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A joint Franklin Templeton-Gallup research project released late last month found that on average, Americans believed people aged 55 and older made up more than half, 57.7 percent, of total coronavirus deaths. 

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through July 22, those 55 and older made up more than 92 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. 

Researchers also found that Americans believed people aged 44 and younger made up about 30 percent of total coronavirus deaths, when the actual figure was less than 3 percent. 

Americans also thought those aged 65 or older accounted for about 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths, when the actual figure was 80 percent. 

“Nearly all U.S. fatalities have been among people older than 55; and yet a large number of Americans are still convinced that the risk to those younger than 55 is almost the same as to those who are older,” Sonal Desai, chief investment officer at Franklin Templeton Fixed Income, said in a statement. 

The survey also found 58 percent of people aged 18 to 24, which account for just 0.1 percent of all COVID-19 deaths, said they fear significant health consequences if they become infected with the virus. 

Researchers attributed the discrepancies to partisanship and social media. 

“Fear and anger are the most reliable drivers of engagement; scary tales of young victims of the pandemic, intimating that we are all at risk of dying, quickly go viral; so do stories that blame everything on your political adversaries,” Desai said. “Both social and traditional media have been churning out both types of narratives in order to generate more clicks and increase their audience.”

People who relied on social media as their main source of information on the coronavirus pandemic had the most “erroneous and distorted perception of risk,” according to the research. 

While the risk of death from COVID-19 is minimal among younger people, health experts warn that the coronavirus pandemic is increasingly being driven by people as young as 20 and 30 who may have few or no symptoms at all, but pose a danger to the much more vulnerable elderly population. 

The results of the project were based on online surveys conducted by more than 10,000 U.S. adults aged 18 or older from July 2-14. 

Published on Aug 19, 2020