The unequal distribution of sibling and parent deaths by race and its effect on attaining a college degree

Naomi Harada Thyden, Nicole M. Schmidt, Theresa L. Osypuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: Examine (1) the distribution of experiencing the death of a parent or sibling (family death) by race/ethnicity and (2) how a family death affects attaining a college degree. Methods: Participants (n = 8984) were from National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 aged 13–17 at baseline in 1997 and 29–32 in 2013. We examined the prevalence of family deaths by age group and race/ethnicity and used covariate-adjusted logistic regression to assess the relationship between a family death and college degree attainment. Results: A total of 4.2% of white youth experienced a family death, as did 5.0% of Hispanics, 8.3% of Blacks, 9.1% of Asians, and 13.8% of American Indians (group test P < .001). A family death from ages 13–22 was associated with lower odds of obtaining a bachelor's degree by ages 29–32 (OR = 0.65, 95% CI = 0.50, 0.84), compared with no family death. The effect of a death was largest during college years (age 19–22) (OR = 0.57, 95% CI = 0.39, 0.82). Conclusions: Young people of color are more likely to have a sibling or parent die; and family death during college years is associated with reduced odds of obtaining a college degree. Racial disparities in mortality might affect social determinants of health of surviving relatives, and college policies are a potential intervention point.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-82.e1
JournalAnnals of epidemiology
StatePublished - May 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by National Institutes of Health grant R01 HD090014 (Dr. Osypuk, PI). The authors gratefully acknowledge support from the Minnesota Population Center ( P2C HD041023 ) funded through a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development . Funders did not have any role in design or conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; or preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Inc.


  • Bereavement
  • Education
  • Health disparities
  • Social determinants of health

PubMed: MeSH publication types

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


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