When will your parents die? The factors that make the difference in America

Mona Chalabi

Even though it is a sad inevitability for everyone, the death of our parents is still defined by many of the same factors that shape the rest of our lives – factors like race, educational attainment and poverty.

In May, the US Census Bureau published a working paper to look at how demographic factors affect the age we are when our parents die. Many trends emerged from the research, which was based on data from the 2014 Survey of Income and Program Participation.

Unsurprisingly, as we age, the probability of losing a parent gets closer and closer to 100%. But this varies considerably by the sex of the parent.

Black Americans are more likely to experience the death of a parent earlier in their lives. Using adults aged 25 to 34 as an example, about 15% of the white population and Asian population in the age group have lost one or both parents. That is compared with 17% of the Hispanic population and 24% of the black population in that age group who have experienced the death of a parent.

Poor Americans are also more likely to experience the death of parent earlier in their lives. Among adults aged 35 to 44, 43% of those living below the federal poverty line (FPL) have experienced the death of one or both parents compared with 28% of wealthy adults (defined here as those earning at least 400% of the FPL).

Taken together, the data shows that inequality is just as inescapable in death as it is in life for Americans.