Gender Differences in Depressive Symptoms Following Child Death in Later Life.

TitleGender Differences in Depressive Symptoms Following Child Death in Later Life.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsMellencamp, KA
JournalThe Journals of Gerontology, Series B
ISSN Number1758-5368
Keywordslife course, parental bereavement, population heterogeneity, psychological adjustment

OBJECTIVE: This study examined short- and long-term psychological adjustment to parental bereavement in later life for mothers and fathers.

METHOD: Using 9 waves of data from the United States (1998-2014 Health and Retirement Study), I estimated trajectories of mothers' and fathers' depressive symptoms surrounding child death in later life, highlighting gender differences in adjustment. Moderation analyses were performed to uncover heterogeneous trajectories across parental characteristics.

RESULTS: Mothers were more likely to experience child death and reported higher depressive symptoms prior to parental bereavement than fathers. Mothers and fathers who lost a child reported an increase in depressive symptoms that diminished over time. The short-term elevation in depressive symptoms was marginally greater for mothers than fathers, but depressive symptoms declined at a faster rate for mothers than fathers in the years following the death. These counterbalancing changes resulted in mothers and fathers returning to their respective pre-bereavement levels of depressive symptoms between 2 and 4 years post-bereavement. Parental age moderated trajectories distinctly by gender, and the presence of surviving children buffered the impact of child death on depressive symptoms for mothers but not fathers.

DISCUSSION: Mothers more often experience child death in later life and their adjustment process differs from that of fathers, underscoring the salience of gender in shaping how older parents respond to the death of a child. Older parents and mothers without surviving children are vulnerable to prolonged elevations in depressive symptoms following the death of a child in later life.

Citation Key12940
PubMed ID36462213
PubMed Central IDPMC10461527