Death of Parent in Early Life, Remarriage and Later-Life Suicide Risk

Michael S. Hollingshaus, University of Utah
Ken R. Smith, University of Utah

The effects of experiencing early-life death of a parent on later-life suicide risk have not been well-studied in the United States. We used the Utah Population Database to examine this relationship, as well as any effects of remarriage of surviving parent, religion, and socioeconomic status on suicide risk. 936,237 offspring born between 1811 and 1992, including 5,654 suicide cases, were linked to their respective mothers and fathers. Cox Hazard models showed that experiencing the death of a parent in early life increased suicide risk; and the effect differed by the sex of the offspring and parent. Orphans who lost both parents in early life experienced the greatest increase in suicide risk. We found no strong evidence that remarriage of the surviving parent during childhood moderated the increased risk. While religion and high socioeconomic status were protective against suicide, they did not explain the increased risk due to early-life parental death.

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Presented in Session 72: New Approaches to Understanding Child Health: A Closer Look at the Family