Affordable Access

Long-term psychological consequences of parental bereavement prior to midlife: volunteering helps.

  • Huo, Meng
  • Kim, Kyungmin
  • Wang, Dahua
Publication Date
Jun 01, 2022
eScholarship - University of California
External links


ObjectivesLosing a child prior to midlife may be a uniquely traumatic event that continues to compromise parents' well-being in later life. This study compared psychological well-being between bereaved and non-bereaved parents, and examined whether volunteering protects bereaved parents. Because most families have more than one child, we further explored whether the number of living children parents had differentiated bereaved parents in their well-being.MethodsWe analyzed a pooled sample of parents aged 50+ (N = 12,023) from the Health and Retirement Study (2010/2012-2012/2014), including parents who lost a child prior to 50 and those who never lost a child. Two-level linear regression models were estimated to test the associations between child loss, volunteering, and psychological well-being, and examine the moderating effect of number of living children.ResultsBereaved parents reported more depressive symptoms and lower life satisfaction than their non-bereaved counterparts, which was more evident among parents with fewer children alive. Among bereaved parents, volunteering, particularly volunteering 100+ hours/year, was associated with better psychological well-being at baseline; yet, volunteering 1-99 hours/year led to a larger increase in life satisfaction over time. The benefits of volunteering held true regardless of the number of living children.ConclusionThis study adds to our understanding of the lasting effect of parental bereavement and suggests volunteering as a potential intervention aimed at helping bereaved older parents. Findings identify parents with fewer children as a particularly vulnerable population in the face of child loss and calls for more resources allocated to help them.

Report this publication


Seen <100 times