Black Deaths Matter: Race, Relationship Loss, and Effects on Survivors

J Health Soc Behav. 2017 Dec;58(4):405-420. doi: 10.1177/0022146517739317. Epub 2017 Nov 6.


Close relationships are a resource for mental and physical health that, like other social resources, is unequally distributed in the population. This article focuses on racial disparities in the loss of relationships across the life course. Racial disparities in life expectancy in the United States mean that black Americans experience the deaths of more friends and family members than do white Americans from childhood through later life. I argue that these losses are a unique type of stress and adversity that, through interconnected biopsychosocial pathways, contribute to disadvantage in health over the life course. I focus particularly on how the interconnected pathways associated with loss undermine opportunities for and increase risks to social ties throughout life, adding to disadvantage in health. I call on social scientists and policy makers to draw greater attention to this unique source of disadvantage for black children, adults, and families.

Keywords: bereavement; mental health; racial disparities; social relationships.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bereavement*
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Death*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Racism / psychology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Survivors / psychology*