Single parent with his child
The study showed that losing a parent before the age of 21 was associated with fewer years of schooling, lower annual earnings and more periods of unemployment. Pixabay

The death of a parent can, understandably, be extremely traumatic – even more so if the event occurs at a young age. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, in the UK, over five per cent of children lose a parent before the age of 16.

Various studies have revealed many negative outcomes of losing a parent ranging from higher risks of substance abuse, depression, criminal behaviour, lower employment rates and underachieving at school.

However, a new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health delved a little bit deeper into these patterns.

The results from the study found that those who experience the premature death of a parent before the age of 21 have an increased risk of poor mental health and lower earnings in adulthood. Researchers found that this was prevalent in both sexes, particularly for boys.

By gathering nationwide data of over 950,000 people from Finland, the researchers were able to examine the impact that premature parental deaths had on mental health, and labour market outcomes of those between the ages of 26 and 30.

This collected data included parental death certificates, medical and educational records, periods of sick leave and tax returns for children.

When analysing the data, the researchers found that a little over 145,000 people had lost a parent before the age of 31 – less than five per cent had experienced the death of their mother, whilst 12 per cent had lost their father.

The likelihood of parental death rose quite sharply with age. For instance, the chances of losing a parent before the child turned six were just under one per cent, whilst for those aged between 26 and 30, this rose to five per cent.

Researchers found that fathers were nearly three times more likely than mothers to die before their children turned 21.

Over 65,000 people lost a parent before they had turned 21, which was associated with greater odds of hospital admission for poor mental health, and it was for those who experienced parental loss after the age of 30.

According to the data, men seemed to be more vulnerable than women, as men proved to be 70 per cent more likely to be admitted into hospital (particularly for substance abuse disorders and self-harm), whilst the equivalent for women was 52 per cent.

Amidst the findings, the researchers also found that losing a parent before the age of 21 potentially leads to lower annual earnings, unemployment and fewer years of schooling.

In fact, the largest reduction in years of schooling, which was four per cent, the equivalent of more than half of the academic years, was among girls who had lost their mothers prematurely.

Although the researchers acknowledge that this is merely an observational study and didn't capture mild mental health issues or genetic factors of childhood, the team did acknowledge that the key strengths of the study lie in the use of nationwide data and primary care psychiatric health records.

The team concluded their findings by writing:

"Early parental death is strongly associated with a higher risk of children's poor mental health in adulthood for both males and females, but the estimated odds ratios are usually quantitatively larger for males."