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

8 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
  • Ethnic Groups/statistics & numerical data
  • United States
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Educational Status
  • African Americans/statistics & numerical data
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult
  • Academic Success
  • Indians, North American/statistics & numerical data
  • Social Determinants of Health
  • Hispanic Americans/statistics & numerical data
  • Parental Death/ethnology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Siblings/ethnology
  • Longitudinal Studies

PubMed: MeSH publication types

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


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