Black Americans May Suffer Disproportionately From Family Deaths

Photographed By Alexandra Gavillet.
According to a new study, black Americans may suffer disproportionately from early family deaths.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at over 42,000 Americans of diverse races, and discovered that black Americans suffered deaths in the family far earlier than white Americans. This creates what researchers are calling a "grief gap."

“Blacks were three times more likely to lose a mother, twice as likely to lose a father, and 2.5 times more likely to lose a child by age 30,” the study's lead author, Debra Umberson, told CBS News. “And they’re 90 percent more likely to experience four or more family deaths by age 60.”

To determine these figures, Umberson and the team compiled data from two databases — various interviews with U.S. Americans age 50 or older, and younger black and white Americans surveyed 16 times since 1997. Looking for deaths of spouses, parents, siblings, or children, researchers found that black Americans were more likely to have lost a sibling by age ten compared to white Americans. They were also two times as likely to have lost a father by age 20, and 50% more likely to have lost a father.

The statistics just get more heartbreaking. Black Americans between the ages of 50 and 70 were three times as likely to watch their child die, and twice as likely to have lost a spouse by age 60.

The study doesn't mention why this gap exists, though the negative effects of these deaths are significant. CBS News reports that death of a parent, child, or spouse is the most stressful life event a person can experience, which Umberson says can lead to other stresses, like divorce and poverty.

“This is a tragedy," Umberson said. "One that reverberates throughout these family networks to affect many people in ways that surely take a toll on their lives."
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