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Effects of a Parent's Death on Adult Children: Relationship Salience and Reaction to Loss

Debra Umberson and Meichu D. Chen
American Sociological Review
Vol. 59, No. 1 (Feb., 1994), pp. 152-168
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2096138
Page Count: 17
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Effects of a Parent's Death on Adult Children: Relationship Salience and Reaction to Loss
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Abstract

In this study we assess the impact of a parent's death on adult children's physical and psychological functioning. Individuals from 24 to 96 years old were interviewed in 1986 (N = 3,617) and again in 1989 (N = 2,867). In the intervening three years, 207 respondents experienced the death of a biological parent. Our results indicate that when compared to adult children who are not bereaved, bereaved adult children experience a significant increase in psychological distress and alcohol consumption and a decline in physical health status. We also developed a theoretical framework to guide an analysis of group differences in adult children's reactions to a parent's death. Our analysis shows that some groups experience a substantially greater decline in functioning than others following a parent's death, whereas other groups actually experience improved functioning following a parent's death. Depending on the type of outcome assessed, several factors are associated with children's reactions to a parent's death: age and marital status of the child, gender of the child and the deceased parent, the quality of previous adult interactions with the deceased parent, and childhood memories of the deceased parent.

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