Race, death of a child, and mortality risk among aging parents in the United States

TitleRace, death of a child, and mortality risk among aging parents in the United States
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsDonnelly, R, Umberson, D, Hummer, RA, Garcia, MA
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
KeywordsBereavement, Death of a child, Minority aging, Mortality, race

The death of a child is a stressful and traumatic life event that has been linked to increased mortality risk among parents. Tragically, black parents are significantly more likely than white parents to lose a child in the United States; however, prior research has not addressed this racial disadvantage in relation to parents’ mortality risk. In this study, we focus on the racial context of the United States to suggest that black parents already face higher mortality rates compared to white parents, and the unequal burden of child death adds to their mortality risk. Using discrete-time event history models, we consider whether the death of a child by midlife is associated with increased mortality risk for black parents and for white parents in mid- to later-life using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS; 1996–2016). Descriptive results show that by midlife, black parents, especially black mothers, experience substantially higher child mortality compared with white parents. At the same time, we find that losing a child prior to midlife is associated with heightened mortality risk for aging black mothers and white mothers. Controlling for educational attainment explains the association between child death and parental mortality risk among white mothers, whereas heightened biopsychosocial and behavioral risk factors explain the association for black mothers. Overall, the death of a child is associated with increased mortality risk for black mothers and for white mothers, but the processes linking child death to parental mortality seem to differ for black and white parents. These findings have implications for policies and interventions that address increased mortality risk for parents following the death of a child. © 2020 Elsevier Ltd

Citation KeyDonnelly2020
PubMed ID32088513
PubMed Central IDPMC7423689