Social Inequalities in Bereavement across the Life Course: A Study of Four-Generation Kinship Networks in Sweden

Speaker: Isaac Sasson

University of Tel Aviv

This event is part of the Sociology Seminar Series.

Abstract: The death of family members is a near-ubiquitous human experience with detrimental and potentially lasting effects on one’s social and psychological wellbeing. Mortality decline in rich countries has made this experience more predictable across the life course, though patterns of family bereavement may vary considerably across socioeconomic strata. This study develops a demographic framework for understanding social inequalities in bereavement, accounting for both mortality inequalities and variation in kinship structure. Building on life course theory, it conceptualizes the burden of bereavement as a multifaceted phenomenon relating to intensity (cumulative exposure to death of family members), timing during the life course in which bereavement is experienced, and predictability (deaths occurring outside of the expected generational ordering). This framework is demonstrated using Swedish population registry data, reconstructing four-generation kinship networks for the 1973 birth cohort and measuring exposure to kin deaths by education and income. Socioeconomic inequalities in family bereavement are further decomposed to differences in kin mortality and differences in kin structure. The findings reveal a socioeconomic gradient in the burden of family bereavement, though it is manifested primarily through timing and predictability effects. Specifically, individuals with lower levels of education and income are more likely to experience the death of parents, siblings, cousins, and children early in life. However, group differences in cumulative exposure to bereavement are relatively minor because the impact of mortality inequalities is offset by differences in kin structure. This study highlights the intricate ways in which demographic processes shape inequalities in bereavement across the life course.

The Sociology Seminar Series for Trinity Term is convened by Jan Jonsson.  For more information about this or any of the seminars in the series, please contact