Journal Article

Does the impact of parental death vary by parental socioeconomic status? A study of children’s educational and occupational attainment

Barclay, K. J., Hällsten, M.
Journal of Marriage and Family, 84:1, 141–164 (2022)


Objective: We examine whether parental death differentially affects educational and occupational attainment by the socioeconomic status of the parent who dies and the socioeconomic status of the surviving parent and extended kin.
Background: An extensive literature has explored the main effect of parental death on offspring attainment, but few studies have examined socioeconomic differentials in the impact of parental death. Understanding the potential role of socioeconomic resources in compensating for disadvantage is important for understanding whether parental death, and disadvantageous events more generally, have an equalizing or exacerbating effect on socioeconomic differences in offspring socioeconomic attainment.
Method: Using Swedish population register data on cohorts born 1973—1982 we examine grade point average at age 16, the transition from lower to upper-secondary education, the transition to tertiary education, overall educational attainment, and occupational status by age 30. We match families using antemortem parental socioeconomic trajectories. We also employ sibling fixed effects models.
Results: We observe inconsistent results in our between-family regression analyses adjusting for observables. In sibling fixed effects models, we see zero results for moderation by parents’ occupations.
Conclusion: We find little clear or convincing evidence that there are socioeconomic differentials in the impact of parental death in Sweden.
Implications: The Swedish welfare state may reduce socioeconomic differentials in the impact of parental death. However, the lack of socioeconomic variation may also be influenced by factors such as compensatory agency.

Keywords: Sweden, adult mortality, education, intergenerational social mobility, socio-economic differentials, socio-economic status
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.