Kolk, Martin , Alburez-Gutierrez, Diego & Emilio Zagheni | 2021
The death of a child affects the well-being of parents and families worldwide but very little is known about the scale of this phenomenon. We provide the first global overview of parental bereavement, its magnitude, prevalence, and distribution over age, for the 1950-2000 annual birth cohorts of women using a novel methodology from formal demography applied to data from the 2019 Revision of the United Nations World Population Prospects. We project that the global burden of parental bereavement will be 1.6 times lower for women born in the year 2000 than for women born in 1955. Accounting for compositional effects, we anticipate the largest improvements in regions of the Global South where offspring mortality continues to be a common life event. The paper quantifies an unprecedented shift in the timing of parental bereavement from reproductive to retirement ages. Starting with the 1985 cohort, women will be more likely to lose an adult child after age 65 than a young child before age 50, reversing a long-standing global trend. "Child death" will increasingly come to mean the death of adult offspring. We project persisting regional inequalities in offspring mortality and in the availability of children in later life, a particular concern for parents dependent on support from their children after retirement. Nevertheless, our analyses suggest a progressive narrowing of the historical gap between the Global North and South in the near future. These developments have profound implications for demographic theory, and highlight the need for policies to support bereaved older parents.