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Increased mortality in parents bereaved in the first year of their child's life
  1. Mairi Harper1,
  2. Rory C O'Connor2 and
  3. Ronan E O'Carroll2
  1. 1Social Policy Research Unit, University of York, York, UK
  2. 2Department of Psychology, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK
  1. Correspondence to Mairi Harper, Social Policy Research Unit, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK; mh845{at}


Objective To identify the relative risk (RR) of mortality in bereaved parents compared with non-bereaved counterparts.

Design Retrospective data linkage study.

Setting United Kingdom, 1971–2006.

Participants A random sample from death registrations (5%) of parents who had a live birth where the infant lived beyond its first year of life (non-bereaved parents) and parents who had experienced a stillbirth or the death of a child in its first year of life (bereaved parents) between 1971 and 2006.

Main outcome measures Death or widowhood of the parent.

Results Bereaved parents in Scotland (n=738) were more than twice as likely to die in the first 15 years after their child's death than non-bereaved parents (n=50 132), p<0.005. Bereaved mothers in England and Wales (n=481) were more than four times as likely to die in the first 15 years after their child's birth than non-bereaved parents (n=30 956), p<0.001. The mortality risk for bereaved mothers compared with non-bereaved mothers, followed up for 25 years after death, was 1.5 (bereaved n=745, non-bereaved n=36 434), p<0.005. When followed up for 35 years, the risk of mortality for bereaved mothers (n=1120) was 1.2 times that of non-bereaved mothers (n=36 062), p<0.005.

Conclusions Bereaved parents who experience stillbirth or infant death have markedly increased mortality compared with non-bereaved parents, up to 25 years (mean) after the death of their child. However, the RR reduces over time.

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  • Funding This research was funded under a PhD studentship from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval The study received ethical approval from the Department of Psychology Ethics Committee within the University of Stirling.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.