Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Current Projects

Project Title:

Socioeconomic cost of bereavement in Scotland

Project Number:



Dennis Petrie (University of Dundee)
Fu-Min Tseng (University of Dundee)
Shaolin Wang (University of Dundee)
Silje Skår (Robert Gordon University)

Start Date:

Approved on 27-04-2012


The research question of interest is to quantify the impact/cost of bereavement on the outcomes in several domains such as medical utilization, productivity, and mortality for Scotland. This will include:

  • Quantifying the number of bereaved in Scotland per death
  • Estimate the number of individuals within the household at the last census pre-death of the sample member, stillbirth or infant death
  • Estimate the impact of the death of a spouse, stillbirth or infant death on mortality, hospital admissions, productivity etc.
  • (if possible) Estimate the impact of other bereavements on outcomes. For example the impact of the bereavement of a parent on child outcomes.

Bereavement is associated with various psychological symptoms and illnesses such as depression, anxiety, hostility, loneliness, shock, etc. (Parkes, 1996; Hansson and Stroebe, 2006; Stroebe et al., 2007). These intermediate outcomes could cause social costs, for instance, the reductions in human capital, labour productivity, increases in medical utilisation and increases in mortality risk (Boyle et al., 2011).

Despite the well documented increased mortality after bereavement (see reviews in Van den Berga, Lindeboomb, & Portrait, 2011; Harper, O’Connor, & O’Carroll, 2011), recent efforts assess whether these observed bereavement effects represent causation, or a correlation resulting from unobserved factors which increased the risk of mortality which were common to both the dead and the bereaved. Espinosa and Evans (2008) examine the heterogeneity in the bereavement effects based on cause of death and find that the observed heightened mortality after a spousal death is causal for men, but subject to an omitted variables bias for women. Van den Berga, Lindeboomb, & Portrait (2011) model survivals of both spouses and the dynamic evolution of health jointly and find strong instantaneous effects of bereavement on mortality and on certain aspects of health. On the other hand, literature on the economic costs of bereavement in health care settings is yet in the earliest stage of development given the difficulty in measuring costs, acquiring data and defining what actual costs consist of (Genevro & Miller, 2010).

We will focus on the impact of bereavement on the social costs in short-term and long-term period. The bereaved SLS sample will be compared with its counterpart to investigate the difference in outcomes between these two groups. Several subgroups will be partitioned according to age, sex, education, and the bereavement type (death of spouse, parents, children) to investigate whether the impact of bereavement is significant between subgroups. We can also find out the determinants of the strength of bereavement impact on social costs.


Boyle, P J. Feng, Z and Raab, G.M (2011) Does Widowhood Increase Mortality Risk? Testing for Selection Effects by Comparing Causes of Spousal Death. Epidemiology, 22, 1-5.

Corden, A., Hirst, M. and Nice, K. (2010). Death of a partner: financial implications and experience of loss, Bereavement Care, 29, 1, 23-28.

Corden, A. and Hirst, M., (2008) Implementing a mixed methods approach to explore the financial implications of death of a life partner, Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 2, 3, 208-220.

Espinosa, J., & Evans, W. N. (2008). Heightened mortality after the death of a spouse: Marriage protection or marriage selection? Journal of Health Economics, 27, 1326-1342.

Genevro, J. L., & Miller, T. L. (2010). The Emotional and Economic Costs of Bereavement in Health Care Settings. Psychologica Belgica, 50, 69-88(20).

Hansson, R.O. and Stroebe, M.S. (2006) 'Bereavement in late life: development, coping, and adaptation' Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Harper, M., O'Connor, R. E., & O'Carroll, R. C. (2011). Increased mortality in parents bereaved in the first year of their child's life. BMJ Support Palliat Care, forthcoming.

Parkes, C.M. (1996) 'Bereavement: Studies of grief in adult life (3rd edn)' New York: Routledge.

Stroebe, M.S., Schut, H., and Stroebe, W. (2007) 'Health outcomes of bereavement' Lancet 370: 1960-1973.

Van den Berga, G. J., Lindeboomb, M., & Portrait, F. (2011). Conjugal bereavement effects on health and mortality at advanced ages. Journal of Health Economics, 30, 774-794.

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