Death of family members is highly likely to disrupt and strain other
family relationships as well as the formation, duration and quality of
relationships across the life course. This further contributes to a broad
range of adverse life outcomes including poor health and lower life
The potentially substantial damage to surviving family members is a
largely overlooked area of racial disadvantage.
‘African-Americans are more likely than whites to experience the loss of a parent during childhood and more likely to be exposed to multiple family member deaths by mid-life.’
African-Americans are more likely than whites to experience the loss
of a parent during childhood and more likely to be exposed to multiple
family member deaths by mid-life, revealed a study by the Population
Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin.
It's a trend that is likely to be damaging to the health of black
Americans in the long run, the researchers said. Racial disparities in
life expectancy and mortality risk in the United States also suggest
that blacks are exposed to more family member deaths earlier and
throughout their life than whites.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
UT Austin researchers examined racial disparities in exposure and
timing of family member deaths to uncover an underappreciated layer of
racial inequality, which results from reoccurring bereavement that may
lead to the intergenerational transmission of black health
Debra Umberson, a
sociology professor who is the director of the Population Research
Center, said, "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."
Using nationally representative datasets of more than 42,000 people,
Umberson and her colleagues compared non-Hispanic black and
non-Hispanic white Americans on their exposure to death of biological
parents, siblings, children and spouses, as well as the total number of
deaths experienced at different ages.
Umberson emphasizes that bereavement following the death of even one
close family member has lasting adverse consequences for health.
Premature losses are especially devastating.
"If losing a family member is a disadvantage in the present in
ways that disrupt the future, racial disparities in these losses over
the life course is a tangible manifestation of racial inequality that
needs to be systematically documented," she said.
The study showed that blacks experienced more family member deaths
overall than whites. They were twice as likely to experience the death
of two or more family members by age 30 and 90% more likely to
experience four or more deaths by age 65. In stark contrast, whites were
50% more likely to never experience a family member death by age
The researchers found overall that blacks were at greater risk of
losing a mother from early childhood through young adulthood, a father
through their mid-teens, a sibling in their teens and a child by the age
of 30. The race-gap diminishes only slightly at ages 70 and up when
whites begin to experience more loss, the researchers said.
Specific findings include:
* In a cohort born in the 1980s,
- Blacks were three times more likely to lose a mother, more
than twice as likely to lose a father and 20% more likely to lose
a sibling by age 10.
- Blacks were two and a half times more likely to lose a child by age 30* Among several older cohorts born in the 1900s to the 1960s,
- Blacks were nearly twice as likely as whites to lose a spouse by age 60.
- Blacks were 50% more likely to lose a sibling between the ages of 50 and 70.
- Between the ages of 50 and 70 Blacks were three times more likely than whites to lose a child.
"This is the first population-based documentation of earlier and
repeated bereavement experiences for Black Americans," Umberson said.