, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 803–826 | Cite as

A Sibling Death in the Family: Common and Consequential

  • Jason Fletcher
  • Marsha Mailick
  • Jieun Song
  • Barbara WolfeEmail author


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 mortality Education Siblings 



Following the economics tradition, the authors are listed alphabetically. We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Jan Greenberg and Frank Floyd for their comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. Support for this research was provided by the WT Grant Foundation Grant Number ID #9807 (to Barbara Wolfe, PI), the National Institute on Aging, Project 3 of P01 AG021079 (to Marsha R. Mailick, PI) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P30 HD03352 to Marsha R. Mailick, PI). This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jason Fletcher
    • 1
  • Marsha Mailick
    • 2
  • Jieun Song
    • 2
  • Barbara Wolfe
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Public HealthYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Waisman CenterUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA
  3. 3.La Follette School of Public Affairs, Department of Economics, and Population Health SciencesUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA
  4. 4.Institute for Research on PovertyUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA

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