Tracking the reach of COVID-19 kin loss with a bereavement multiplier applied to the United States

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jul 28;117(30):17695-17701. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2007476117. Epub 2020 Jul 10.


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to a large increase in mortality in the United States and around the world, leaving many grieving the sudden loss of family members. We created an indicator-the COVID-19 bereavement multiplier-that estimates the average number of individuals who will experience the death of a close relative (defined as a grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or child) for each COVID-19 death. Using demographic microsimulation-based estimates of kinship networks in the United States, the clear age gradient in COVID-19 mortality seen across contexts, and several hypothetical infection prevalence scenarios, we estimate COVID-19 bereavement multipliers for White and Black individuals in the United States. Our analysis shows that for every COVID-19 death, approximately nine surviving Americans will lose a grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or child. These estimates imply, for example, that if 190,000 Americans die from COVID-19, as some models project, then ∼1.7 million will experience the death of a close relative. We demonstrate that our estimates of the bereavement multiplier are stable across epidemiological realities, including infection scenarios, total number of deaths, and the distribution of deaths, which means researchers can estimate the bereavement burden over the course of the epidemic in lockstep with rising death tolls. In addition, we provide estimates of bereavement multipliers by age group, types of kin loss, and race to illuminate prospective disparities. The bereavement multiplier is a useful indicator for tracking COVID-19's multiplicative impact as it reverberates across American families and can be tailored to other causes of death.

Keywords: COVID-19; bereavement; demography; mortality; social support.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bereavement*
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • COVID-19
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / mortality*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / mortality*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Prospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Siblings
  • Spouses
  • Survival Rate
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult