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Parental Mortality is Linked to a Variety of Socio-economic and Demographic Factors

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People lose their fathers earlier in life than their mothers, and the timing of parental loss is linked to factors such as race, educational attainment and poverty status.

For the first time, the 2014 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) included a series of questions asking respondents whether their parents were still alive.

Even among individuals ages 55 to 64, where the majority of all adults have lost a parent, a higher percentage of the black population has experienced parental loss.

When taken in combination with socio-economic indicators collected in the SIPP, these nationally representative data offer a new opportunity to evaluate factors related to parental mortality.

A U.S. Census Bureau working paper uses this newly available data to show how demographic factors play a big role in determining when we lose our parents.

Fathers Die Earlier in Their Children’s Lives Than Mothers

Government health data indicate that women live longer, on average, than men. The 2014 SIPP shows how this gap in life expectancy plays out in terms of the timing of parental loss (Figure 1).

For example, among those ages 45 to 49, 26% have lost their mother, while 45% have lost their father. Along these same lines, 7 in 10 of those ages 60 to 64 have a deceased mother, while about 87% have lost their father.

Racial Differences

The 2014 SIPP data also show differences in the timing of parental mortality across racial groupings (Figure 2).

For example, among adults ages 25 to 34, about 15% of the white population and Asian population have lost one or both parents. By contrast, about 17% of the Hispanic population and 24% of the black population have experienced the death of a parent.

Even among individuals ages 55 to 64, where the majority of all adults have lost a parent, a higher percentage of the black population has experienced parental loss.

Differences by Socio-economic Status

Socio-economic factors, such as poverty status, also can influence the timing of parental loss.

A higher percentage of individuals ages 25 to 54 who are living in a household with an income-to-poverty ratio below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), a national standard based on household size, have lost a parent (Figure 3).

By comparison, those living in wealthier households lose their parents later in life.

For example, among those ages 35 to 44, 43% of those living below the FPL have lost one or both parents, compared to 28% for those living in households with an income-to-poverty ratio of at least 400% of the FPL.

What the New Data Show

Parental loss, which varies by race and socio-economic status, is often accompanied by psychological and material consequences. These statistics demonstrate the way these new SIPP data can help assess how socio-economic and demographic characteristics are associated with parental mortality in the United States.


Zachary Scherer is a survey statistician in the Census Bureau’s Fertility and Family Statistics Branch.


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Page Last Revised - December 16, 2021
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