Black children significantly more likely to have a parent who died of COVID-19

A new study estimates 43,000 children in the U.S. have a lost a parent due to the pandemic

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published April 13, 2021 7:01AM (EDT)


A study published in JAMA Pediatrics puts into stark perspective the unequal devastation wrought by COVID-19.

Black children were disproportionately more likely to have lost a parent to COVID-19, according to the study published on April 5th. Among children who lost a parent to COVID-19, 20 percent of those were Black children. Given that the U.S. is 14 percent Black, this means that Black children were more likely than average to be left parentless by COVID-19. 

The study's data showed that as of February 2021, an estimated 37,300 children in total between the ages of 0 and 17 have lost at least one parent to COVID-19. Three-fourths of those children were adolescents; 20,600 of the 37,300 children were non-Hispanic white children and 7,600 were non-Hispanic Black children.

"We're opening up the newspaper everyday and looking at the growing number of people who have died," Rachel Kidman, lead author of the paper, told Time magazine. "But we're not thinking about the number of people left behind and that's a staggering amount."

Researchers used census data to develop a simulation to model the number of family members the average person has based on age, ethnicity or racial group. Overall, they found that every COVID-19 death in the U.S. leaves 0.078 children without a parent. When the researchers factored in excess deaths to address the issue of underestimating the number of deaths indirectly due to the pandemic, they estimated that 43,000 children in the U.S. have lost a parent. To put this in perspective, they noted how after the attacks on September 11, 2001, an estimated 3,000 children were left without a parent.

"The burden will grow heavier as the death toll continues to mount," the researchers stated in the paper. "Black children are disproportionately affected, comprising only 14% of children in the US but 20% of those losing a parent to COVID-19."

Notably, these estimates don't include non-parental primary caregivers. According to the Pew Research Center, an estimated 8 percent of Black children are being raised by a grandparent. Considering how the risk of dying from COVID-19 increases with age, it's possible that the estimate of Black children who have lost a primary caretaker to COVID-19 is higher.

The racial disparities surfaced in this study add on to previous research showing that the burden of severe COVID-19 outcomes and mortality rates are disproportionately carried by communities of color. According to a separate study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, Black women are dying from COVID-19 at rates nearly four times higher than white men. Black men face a higher mortality rate nearly six times higher than the rate among white men.

"The deaths we see in the pandemic reflect pre-existing structural inequities; after the pandemic is gone, those will still be there," Heather Shattuck-Heidorn, assistant professor of gender and women studies at the University of Maine and the study's senior author, told CBS Money Watch

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By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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Aggregate Covid-19 Pandemic Parental Deaths Racial Disparity