Long-term effects of the death of a child on parents' adjustment in midlife

J Fam Psychol. 2008 Apr;22(2):203-11. doi: 10.1037/0893-3200.22.2.203.


The death of a child is a traumatic event that can have long-term effects on the lives of parents. This study examined bereaved parents of deceased children (infancy to age 34) and comparison parents with similar backgrounds (n = 428 per group) identified in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. An average of 18.05 years following the death, when parents were age 53, bereaved parents reported more depressive symptoms, poorer well-being, and more health problems and were more likely to have experienced a depressive episode and marital disruption than were comparison parents. Recovery from grief was associated with having a sense of life purpose and having additional children but was unrelated to the cause of death or the amount of time since the death. The results point to the need for detection and intervention to help those parents who are experiencing lasting grief.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bereavement*
  • Death*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Family Conflict / psychology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Grief
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Time
  • Wisconsin