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Testing for Plausibly Causal Links Between Parental Bereavement and Child Socio-Emotional and Academic Outcomes: A Propensity-Score Matching Model

Abstract

The extant literature on parentally bereaved children has focused almost exclusively on the presence of negative mental health and socio-emotional outcomes among these children. However, findings from this literature have been equivocal. While some authors have found support for the presence of higher levels of internalizing and externalizing problems or mental health problems among this population, others have not found such a relationship. Additionally, study designs in this body of literature have limited both the internal and external validity of the research on parentally bereaved children. The present study seeks to address these issues of internal and external validity by utilizing propensity-score matching analyses to make plausibly causal inferences about the relationship between bereavement and internalizing and externalizing problems among children from a nearly nationally representative sample. This study also extends examination of the influence of parental bereavement to other domains of child development: namely, to academic outcomes. Findings suggest a lack of support for causal relationships between parental bereavement and either socio-emotional or academic outcomes among U.S. children. The plausibility of assumptions necessary to draw causal inferences is discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The ECLS-K oversamples children of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. When used without sampling weights to correct for this oversampling, ECLS-K data only approximates national representativeness. (See NCES, 2004.)

  2. 2.

    All un-weighted sample sizes reported for the original, raw ECLS-K data have been rounded to the nearest 10 in accordance with IES policy for publishing restricted-use data.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Leslie D. Williams.

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Williams, L.D., Lawrence Aber, J. Testing for Plausibly Causal Links Between Parental Bereavement and Child Socio-Emotional and Academic Outcomes: A Propensity-Score Matching Model. J Abnorm Child Psychol 44, 705–718 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-015-0069-9

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Keywords

  • Parental bereavement
  • Parentally bereaved children
  • Internalizing and externalizing problems
  • Socio-emotional outcomes
  • Academic outcomes
  • ECLS-K
  • Propensity-score matching
  • Quasi-experimental