, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 803–826

A Sibling Death in the Family: Common and Consequential


  • Jason Fletcher
    • School of Public HealthYale University
  • Marsha Mailick
    • Waisman CenterUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison
  • Jieun Song
    • Waisman CenterUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison
    • La Follette School of Public Affairs, Department of Economics, and Population Health SciencesUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison
    • Institute for Research on PovertyUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison

DOI: 10.1007/s13524-012-0162-4

Cite this article as:
Fletcher, J., Mailick, M., Song, J. et al. Demography (2013) 50: 803. doi:10.1007/s13524-012-0162-4


Although a large literature analyzes the determinants of child mortality and suggests policy and medical interventions aimed at its reduction, there is little existing analysis illuminating the consequences of child mortality for other family members. In particular, there is little evidence exploring the consequences of experiencing the death of a sibling on one’s own development and transition to adulthood. This article examines the prevalence and consequences of experiencing a sibling death during one’s childhood using two U.S. data sets. We show that even in a rich developed country, these experiences are quite common, affecting between 5 % and 8 % of the children with one or more siblings in our two data sets. We then show that these experiences are associated with important reductions in years of schooling as well as a broad range of adult socioeconomic outcomes. Our findings also suggest that sisters are far more affected than brothers and that the cause of death is an important factor in sibling effects. Overall, our findings point to important previously unexamined consequences of child mortality, adding to the societal costs associated with childhood mortality as well as suggesting additional benefits from policy and medical innovations aimed at curbing both such deaths and subsequent effects on family members.


Child mortalityEducationSiblings

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© Population Association of America 2012