The death of a parent at a young age is more devastating for boys than for girls, according to a new study.
Researchers found that the premature loss of a mom or dad is strongly linked to worse mental health and lower earnings in adulthood for both sexes, but particularly boys.
The study, published online by the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, showed that experiencing the death of a parent before the age of 21 led to poor mental well-being and lower earnings or unemployment in adult life.
Previously published research has pointed to a link between premature parental death and the child’s subsequent health and prosperity.
But no studies have drawn on high quality registry data, and few had looked at the cumulative effects or the potential impact of gender.
The research team behind the new study used nationwide registry data from Finland to work out if experiencing the death of a parent before the age of 21 was associated with any of numerous measures of poor mental health and labor market outcomes between the ages of 26 and 30, and what influence, if any, gender may have.
They included more than 960,000 Finns born between 1971 and 1986 who had reached at least the age of 30 by 2016.
The registry data included parental death certificates; plus medical and educational records, periods of sick leave, and tax returns for their children, nearly all of whom had completed their education and entered the labor market by the age of 30.
Around one in six (15 percent) had lost a parent before the age of 31. Less than five percent had experienced the death of their mother, while nearly 12 percent had lost their father.
The likelihood of a parental death rose sharply with age, from under one percent before the child had reached the age of six to just under five percent when they were aged between 26 and 30.
Fathers were nearly three times as likely as mothers to die before their children turned 21.
A total of 65,797 people lost a parent before the age of 21, and that was associated with greater odds of hospital admission for mental health issues than it was for those who experienced the death of a parent after the age of 30.
Study co-author Dr. Petri Böckerman, of the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, said: “Men seemed to be more vulnerable than women.
“They were 70 percent more likely to be admitted to hospital; the equivalent figure for women was 52 percent.
“Substance use disorders and intentional self-harm were the most common reasons for hospital admission. But this varied by gender.
“Boys and young men who lost their mothers prematurely had nearly 2.5 times the odds of hospital admission for intentional self-harm as those who lost their mothers in their 30s.
“Similarly, girls and young women who lost their father prematurely were around twice as likely to have a substance use disorder than those who hadn’t experienced this.”
The findings also showed that a mom’s early death was also associated with a “substantial” (88 percent) increase in stress disorders.
Dr. Böckerman said: “The use of medication for mental health disorders among those who lost a parent prematurely was between 18 percent and 33 percent higher for both sexes than for those who hadn’t experienced this.
“Sick leave was also more likely among both sexes.
“Losing a parent before the age of 21 was also associated with fewer years of schooling, lower annual earnings, and more periods of unemployment at ages 26 to 30 for both sexes.”
The largest reduction in years of schooling (four percent) – the equivalent of more than half an academic year -was among girls who had lost their mothers prematurely, according to the findings.
Dr. Böckerman said: “The estimated effects on earnings and employment were generally larger for men, among whom the early death of a father was associated with an almost 16.5 percent reduction in annual earnings and six percent lower likelihood of regular employment.
“The corresponding estimates for women were 11 percent and four percent, respectively.”
He added: “The key strengths of the study lie in the use of nationwide population data, comprehensive monitoring, and both secondary and primary care psychiatric health records.
“Early parental death is strongly associated with a higher risk of children’s poor mental health in adulthood for both males and females, but the estimated odds ratios are usually quantitatively larger for males.
“Similarly, losing a parent prematurely is negatively associated with children’s labor market outcomes – i.e., employment and earnings – in adulthood, and these associations are quantitatively larger for males.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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