Here’s yet another list where African Americans are the most negatively impacted.  A new report released by the United States Census Bureau shows African Americans are losing their parents at an earlier age than any other demographic group.  

It turns out people lose their fathers earlier in life than their mothers, and the timing of parental loss is linked to factors such as race, educational attainment and poverty status.

For the first time, the panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) included a series of questions asking respondents whether their parents were still alive. A U.S. Census Bureau working paper uses this newly available data to show how demographic factors play a big role in determining when we lose our parents.

Fathers Die Earlier 

Government health data indicate that women live longer, on average, than men. The 2014 SIPP shows how this gap in life expectancy plays out in terms of the timing of parental loss.  Among individuals aged 60 to 64, 7 in 10 have a deceased mother, while about 87% have lost their father.

Racial Differences

The 2014 SIPP data also shows differences in the timing of parental mortality across racial groupings.

For example, among adults ages 25 to 34, about 15% of the White population and Asian population have lost one or both parents. By contrast, about 17% of the Hispanic population and 24% of the Black population have experienced the death of a parent.

Even among individuals ages 55 to 64, where the majority of all adults have lost a parent, a higher percentage of the Black population has experienced parental loss.

“I still have my moments of sadness. They come in waves and at unexpected times. There are elements of his loss that cause great pain, but there is also a sense of relief that he didn’t suffer hard and long.”

Bonita Gooch, 
The Voice Editor-in-Chief on the loss of her second parent Rip Gooch in 2021

Differences by Socio-economic Status

Socio-economic factors, such as poverty status, also can influence the timing of parental loss.

A higher percentage of individuals ages 25 to 54 who are living in a household with an income-to-poverty ratio below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), a national standard based on household size, have lost a parent.

By comparison, those living in wealthier households lose their parents later in life.

For example, among those ages 35 to 44, 43% of those living below the FPL have lost one or both parents, compared to 28% for those living in households with an income-to-poverty ratio of at least 400% of the FPL.

Psychological and Material Consequences  

Despite it being natural to expect that you’ll lose at least one of your parents in your lifetime, parental loss is often accompanied by psychological and material consequences. The loss of either or both of your parents is a wholly transformative event. Nothing will ever be the same.

The parent-child relationship has aspects that set it apart from other types of relationships. For example, initially a child is fully dependent on the parent for survival; parents socialize the child and help shape the child’s definition of self.  Psychotherapists suggest this parental influence continues to be important throughout adulthood and perhaps beyond the death of the parent.  

Evidence indicates that relationships with parents are important to an adult child’s psychological well-being. While studies often focus on adult children serving as caregivers to older parents having a detrimental effect on children’s well-being, more commonly, parents provide assistance and support to adult children, and this may enhance the children’s well-being. 

Adult children are more likely to characterize their parents as emotionally supportive than as critical or demanding, and socioemotional support from parents is often associated as being comforting to adult children, something that African-American adult children lose with the early death of their parents. 

Even among individuals ages 55 to 64, where the majority of all adults have lost a parent, a higher percentage of the Black population has experienced parental loss.

Lost of First Parent

Losing your first parent can come with the most extraordinary overwhelming sense of loss that many have felt in their life up to that point.   The loss of a parent’s guidance, love, and support may leave you feeling a profound sense of emptiness that may be difficult to heal.  

For most, it is the first realization that there will forever be a void from this point of having lost one of the only two people that have been in your life literally from the first moment

Both parents are gone

Despite the kind of relationship you had with both of your parents as a child and as an adult, no one’s ever really prepared for being orphaned. No matter how old we are, until our last parent dies, we still see ourselves as children until we lose our final parent.  

There’s often a sense of devastation in the knowledge that life will never be the same without them. Some people can find this traumatizing and difficult to live with for years to come and will need help and support to cope, especially when your last parent dies. 

Others may question their mortality and look to create better relationships with their children and those around them to feel better about their sense of loss.

Early Loss 

Denial and anger may prolong grief in individuals who’ve lost a parent too soon, without warning, or without the opportunity to say a final goodbye.

Without proper treatment of prolonged grief symptoms, you risk falling into a chronic depression leading to major depressive disorder. Losing a parent in your 20s, for example, can allow for complicated grief to settle in, in part because of feelings that the needed love and support of a parent was cut short. 

Loss of Guidance

The loss of a parent’s guidance, love, and support may leave you feeling a profound sense of emptiness that may be difficult to heal and their death can be one of the most emotionally exhausting experiences many of us will ever have. 

While many people find it incredibly difficult to bounce back from this type of loss, remember, no one expects you to go through this traumatic event alone. If you are struggling, get some help. Talk to family or friends, seek out a counselor, 

Your parents may be gone, but their love and memory will forever be with you. They’ll always be a considerable part of your life no matter where you are or what you’re doing. They are the key to your past and will forever guide your future by way of the life lessons they instilled in you.

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