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Socioeconomic differences in parental death among children born in 1991-92 and 2001-02

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Title: Socioeconomic differences in parental death among children born in 1991-92 and 2001-02
Author(s): Malmberg, Satu
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Degree program: Master 's Programme in Social Research (SOSM)
Specialisation: Demography
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2022
The effect different mortality rates have on the family structure between socioeconomic groups has not been sufficiently studied in Finland or elsewhere. Some evidence of the impact of the disparities in mortality rates on family structure exists in the USA, which is why I was interested in studying whether a similar impact existed in the Finnish context. This thesis focused on the socioeconomic differences in parental death among young children, as bereavement has more prominent effects the younger the death of a parent is experienced. Losing a parent is especially harmful for young children since it causes considerable losses to the family resources in aspects like social support and family wealth, which affect the children’s mental and physical health and the accumulation of different forms of capital during the life-course. The risk of parental death could potentially be one of the determinants of the intergenerational socioeconomic inequalities passed on in the family. For the analysis, I used longitudinal full population data of living conditions and mortality from Statistics Finland. The main research question was whether there were differences in the risk of losing a parent to death between socioeconomic status (SES) groups (measured by the parent’s occupational status) among young children in Finland. I studied the potential changes in time in the risk of parental death by comparing two birth cohorts. These were children born in 1991-92 and 2001-02. As the effects of family type and the parent’s age on the parental mortality risk are well established in previous literature, I looked at whether they had an effect on the inequalities in parental death. I chose two different follow-up times (five and 16 years) for the statistical models. In the 16-year follow-up models, I wished to show the full extent to which socioeconomic disparities existed in the risk of losing a parent to death from the beginning of the children's lives to the age where entitlement to compulsory education ends and the child becomes less dependent of their guardians. The five-year follow-up models were conducted to see whether there were socioeconomic disparities in parental death already during the early years of the children's lives, as parental death itself is rare for under five-year-old children. The analyses were conducted using the Cox proportional hazards regression model. Mothers and fathers were analyzed separately due to their differences in age at child’s birth, socioeconomic structure, family type, and mortality rates. The results revealed significant disparities in the risk of losing a parent to death between socioeconomic groups during the follow-up periods and slight changes in the parental mortality risk over time. The parent’s age at the child’s birth also had an effect on the parental mortality risk. Becoming a parent young (ages below 20) or at older ages (over 40 years) were associated with a higher parental mortality risk during the 16-year follow-up time. Adjusting for parental age also made the socioeconomic mortality disparities more prominent. In addition, children living with their parents in two-parent families had a lower risk of losing their parents to death compared to children living separately from their parents or in single parent families. These results of unequally distributed risks of losing a parent to death in different socioeconomic groups indicated that mortality had an effect on the family structure when it came to biological parents of young children. Thus, the effect of disparities in the mortality rates between socioeconomic groups on the family structure, on the whole, requires further research.
Keyword(s): Parental death socioeconomic inequality Cox regression

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