Boys who suffer the death of a parent might fare worse than girls in later life, new research has suggested.
Parental death before the age of 21 was associated with an effect on mental health and the economic prospects of the young person, regardless of gender.
But males seemed to be at greater risk of long-term negative impacts than women, according to the study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The researchers looked at data on approximately one million people in Finland who had reached at least the age of 30 in 2016. Of these, around 145,673 had lost a parent before the age of 31.
For both sexes, losing a parent before the age of 21 was associated with fewer years of schooling, lower annual earnings, and more periods of unemployment at ages 26–30, they said.
The peer-reviewed study stated: “We documented significant increases in mental health-related hospitalisations and the use of mental health-related medications and sickness absence, as well as substantial reductions in years of schooling, employment, and earnings for the affected children in adulthood. Mental health disorders and adverse labour-market outcomes are likely to be interrelated.”
But they noted that men appeared to be at higher risk of adverse outcomes than women, stating that males and females who were exposed to the early death of a mother had 1.70 and 1.52 times the odds – respectively – of being admitted to hospital due to mental health disorders, compared with those who experienced such bereavement after the age of 30.
Males who experienced the death of their mother before the age of 21 had 2.36 times the odds of being admitted to hospital due to intentional self-harm, compared with those who had not experienced maternal death before their 30s, researchers said.
Females who experienced the early death of a father had 2.04 times the odds
of having substance-use disorders compared with their peers who had not been bereaved, according to the study.
Estimates on labour-market outcomes – earnings and employment – were generally larger for males, the study suggested, stating that the early death of a father was associated with 16.4% lower annual earnings for men, and 10.9% lower annual earnings for women.
Similarly there was a 6.1 percentage points reduction in the employment rate for men, while it was a 4 percentage points reduction for women.
The researchers concluded: “Early-life parental death was found to be consistently associated with a higher risk of hospitalisation due to mental health disorders, higher use of mental health-related medications, and absence from work due to illness in adulthood.
“The associations were negative regardless of the gender of the child or parent, but the estimated odds ratios were usually quantitatively larger for males than females.”
The researchers – based at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, the Institute of Labor Economics in Germany and the School of Economics at University College Dublin, noted that their study is observational only and that things such as personality traits that may affect the estimated associations were not taken into account.