Family deaths in the early life course and their association with later educational attainment in a longitudinal cohort study

Naomi Harada Thyden, Jaime Slaughter-Acey, Rachel Widome, John Robert Warren, Theresa L. Osypuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Due to structural racism and pathways between racism and health, Black and Native American people die at younger ages than white people. This means that those groups are likely to experience deaths of family members at younger ages. Evidence is mixed about whether family deaths affect educational attainment. We aim to 1) estimate the prevalence of family deaths by age and race 2) estimate the effect of a family death on later educational attainment and 3) analyze whether the effect of a family death varies by age, socioeconomic status, gender, and race. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) is a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents in grades 7–12 at baseline in 1994–1995. Add Health has a large and racially diverse sample and records family deaths across the entire life course starting from birth. Participants were included in this analysis if they reported their educational attainment in Wave IV (N = 14,796). The racial group with the lowest proportion experiencing a sibling or parent death in the first 23 years of their lives was white participants (11.7%), followed by Asian (12.5%), Hispanic (15.0%), Black (24.3%) and Native American participants (30.3%). In adjusted models, those who experienced a family death had 0.60 times the odds (95% CI 0.51–0.71) of achieving a bachelor's degree compared to those without a family death. Mother deaths, father deaths, and sibling deaths were each harmful for obtaining a college degree and their effects were similar in magnitude. The age range when the effect of a family death was strongest was 10–13 years old (OR = 0.52 95% CI 0.40–0.67). The effect of a family death on college degree attainment did not vary by baseline parent education, participant sex, or race/ethnicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116161
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd


  • Bereavement
  • Family death
  • Health disparities
  • Life course
  • Mortality
  • Population health
  • Social determinants of health
  • Structural racism

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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