Death of Parents and Adult Psychological and Physical Health: A Prospective U.S. National Study

Marks, Nadine, Heyjung Jun, and Jieun Song
Working paper no. 2005-04


Guided by a life course perspective and attachment theory this study aimed to examine the impact of the death of a mother or father, or both, on multiple dimensions of psychological and physical health, as well as to examine gender differences in these effects. Analyses of longitudinal data from 8,933 U.S. adults revealed that the death of one or both parents over a period of 5 years was associated with several negative effects on mental and physical health. Gender differences were inconsistent. Death of a father led to more negative effects for sons; death of a mother led to more negative effects for daughters. Negative effects of parent loss were more apparent for men in terms of physical health. Overall, these results suggest that scholars and practitioners working with families should not ignore or underestimate the impact of filial bereavement on adult well-being.