Death of family members as an overlooked source of racial disadvantage in the United States.

TitleDeath of family members as an overlooked source of racial disadvantage in the United States.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsUmberson, DJ, Olson, JSkalamera, Crosnoe, R, Liu, H, Pudrovska, T, Donnelly, R
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume114
Issue5
Pagination915-920
Date Published2017 Jan 31
ISSN Number1091-6490
KeywordsBereavement, Death & Dying, Disadvantage, Loss, Older Adults, Racial/ethnic differences
Abstract

Long-standing racial differences in US life expectancy suggest that black Americans would be exposed to significantly more family member deaths than white Americans from childhood through adulthood, which, given the health risks posed by grief and bereavement, would add to the disadvantages that they face. We analyze nationally representative US data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (n = 7,617) and the Health and Retirement Study (n = 34,757) to estimate racial differences in exposure to the death of family members at different ages, beginning in childhood. Results indicate that blacks are significantly more likely than whites to have experienced the death of a mother, a father, and a sibling from childhood through midlife. From young adulthood through later life, blacks are also more likely than whites to have experienced the death of a child and of a spouse. These results reveal an underappreciated layer of racial inequality in the United States, one that could contribute to the intergenerational transmission of health disadvantage. By calling attention to this heightened vulnerability of black Americans, our findings underscore the need to address the potential impact of more frequent and earlier exposure to family member deaths in the process of cumulative disadvantage.

DOI10.1073/pnas.1605599114
Alternate JournalProc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.
Citation Key8895
PubMed ID28115712
PubMed Central IDPMC5293066
Grant ListK01 AG043417 / AG / NIA NIH HHS / United States
P01 HD031921 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
R24 HD042849 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
T32 HD007081 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States