The prevalence of childhood bereavement in Scotland and its relationship with disadvantage: the significance of a public health approach to death, dying and bereavement

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Background and Method:
There is an absence of research on the prevalence of bereavement during early childhood and the relationship between childhood bereavement and socioeconomic status (SES) and this poses a challenge in both understanding and supporting children’s bereavement experiences. Using longitudinal data from the Growing Up in Scotland study, which tracks the lives of three nationally representative cohorts of children, this paper aimed to address these gaps in research. It specifically drew on data from Birth Cohort 1 to document the recorded bereavements of 2,815 children who completed all 8 sweeps of data collection, from age 10 months to 10 years.

The study found that 50.8% of all children are bereaved of a parent, sibling, grandparent or other close family member by age 8 and this rises to 62% by age 10. The most common death experienced was that of a grandparent or other close relative. The study also found that children born into the lowest income households are at greater risk of being bereaved of a parent or sibling than those born into the highest income households.

Discussion and Conclusion:
Given the prevalence of childhood bereavement and its relationship with disadvantage, this paper argues that there is an important need to understand bereavement as a universal issue that is affected by the social conditions in which a child becomes bereaved, as well as an individual experience potentially requiring specialist support. This paper thus seeks to position childhood bereavement more firmly within the public health approach to palliative and bereavement care discourse and contends that doing so provides a unique and comprehensive opportunity to better understand and holistically respond to the experience of bereavement during childhood.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPalliative Care and Social Practice
Early online date2 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2020


  • childhood bereavement
  • public health
  • poverty
  • inequality
  • vulnerable children

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