Study shows racial discrepancy in timing of loss of family members


A study by the Population Research Center at UT indicates African-Americans experience loss of more immediate family members earlier in life than whites, potentially leading to detrimental effects on black families and communities.

Debra Umberson, sociology professor and director of the Population Research Center, and her colleagues used nationally representative datasets to compare the extent and timing of black and white Americans’ exposure to death of biological parents, siblings, children and spouses.

According to the research, which was approved in December 2016, by age 10, black children were three times as likely to have lost a mother and more than twice as likely to have lost a father in comparison to white children. The research shows these discrepancies continued into adulthood. Black parents were more than three times as likely to lose a child between the ages of 50 and 70 compared to white parents.

Ananya Rajesh, business honors and Plan II freshman, said this study shows that racial equality has not yet been achieved in the U.S.

“I think if you have statistics that show there’s such a drastic difference between the deaths of family members and the age at which people die in two different communities, that’s clearly a sign that there is a fundamental difference in either the way we treat people or the way in which people are living,” Rajesh said.
Public relations senior Nicolette Sulaiman said she believes this health inequality is tied to economic inequality.

“In our capitalist society, you need to have money in order to be healthy,” Sulaiman said. “I think this has a lot to do with poverty, which has a lot to do with history.”
According to a UT press release, Umberson said bereavement in response to loss of a family member can have lasting adverse health consequences.

“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, further contributing to a broad range of adverse life outcomes including poor health and lower life expectancy,” Umberson said in the release.

Art history graduate student Kaila Schedeen said it is understandable that experiencing loss in the immediate family could impact future health outcomes.

“I think psychology is very much tied to someone’s physical well-being, so when someone is dealt that big of a loss in their life it becomes very much kind of a physical feeling as well,” Schedeen said. “It seems that it would be impossible that losing someone that close to you would not affect your entire life trajectory.”