An epidemiologic study of mortality among bereaved parents

N Engl J Med. 1988 Aug 25;319(8):457-61. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198808253190801.


To study the health consequences of parental bereavement, we compared the mortality in two groups of bereaved Israeli parents with that in the general population. One cohort comprised the parents of all 2518 soldiers 18 to 40 years of age who were killed during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The second consisted of the parents of 1128 men 18 to 30 years of age who died in accidents between 1971 and 1975. Both groups were followed through 1983. The comparison population was the entire population of Jewish Israelis for which sex-, age-, and calendar year-specific mortality rates were available. The 10-year age-adjusted life-table mortality was higher among fathers whose sons died in accidents rather than in war (P = 0.045), but mortality did not differ significantly between the two groups of mothers. Overall, we found no excess mortality among the bereaved parents as compared with the general population. The standardized mortality ratios for the fathers and mothers of sons killed at war were 0.91 and 0.90, respectively; for fathers and mothers whose sons died by accident, they were 1.04 and 0.91, respectively. None were significantly different from unity. There was no consistent evidence of an elevated risk of death, early or late, after the loss. Widowed and divorced parents who lost a son did have increased mortality, which was statistically significant in mothers. Our findings provide no support for the hypothesis that the loss of an adult son is associated with increased short-term or long-term mortality in married parents.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bereavement*
  • Fathers / psychology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Israel
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Warfare