Experiencing death in the European family

Antoine Pierrard, Université Catholique de Louvain

Death has been studied by demographers mainly from a macro point of view, through rates, probabilities and life tables, depicting the mortality of a given period or cohort. As researchers pointed out, death may also be approached from the point of view of the survivors, and death of a family member be considered as an event in itself (Monnier & Pennec, 2004). Previous researches have shown that the rise of life expectancy has postponed the experience of death of family members from one survivor’s point of view (Monnier & Pennec, 2004 ; Uhlenberg, 1980). As a result, individuals from younger cohorts spend more time with their surviving kin than did their ancestors, know more of their ascending kin, but will have to mourn more family members than before. The present paper proposes to pursue this line of works by comparing how the experience of family members’ death has evolved in cohorts born from 1850 to 2000 in European countries (France, Netherlands, Switzerland, England & Wales and Sweden). It focuses on the timing of deaths cohorts have been (or will be) confronted to and how it shapes the joint survival of individuals with their kin. Ages at family member’s death are estimated for every type of kin (mother, father, children, etc.) or for kin sets as a whole (ascending, descending, lateral, nuclear family, etc.), as well as total number of deaths encountered during the life course. Our results show that the experience death in younger cohorts is not always higher than in older ones, a finding that is not suggested by previous researches.

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Presented in Session 115: Multiple aspects of mortality and health