How Losing Family Members Earlier than Expected Adds to Racial Disadvantage for U.S. Blacks
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Racial disparities in life expectancy and mortality in the U.S. are longstanding and well-documented: Blacks generally die at younger ages than Whites. However, the damage of these earlier deaths on the remaining family members is an area of racial disadvantage that is largely overlooked. While many studies have shown that the death of one family member has negative effects on the health of the remaining family members, no study has looked at the effects of the deaths of multiple family members over a person’s life time. Studying this question is important because it could reveal an added layer of racial disadvantage suffered by Blacks that is not captured by differences in life expectancy or mortality alone. In this study, the authors hypothesize that deaths of close family members (mother, father, sibling, spouse, child) are more common for Black than for White Americans in childhood, midlife and later life. Using nationally representative data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and the Health and Retirement Study, they estimate the differences by race in the likelihood that Blacks will be exposed to more deaths of close family members than Whites throughout their lives.