12 April 2021

Consequences of Serious Parental Health Events on Child Mental Health and Educational Outcomes

New article by PhD student Ida Lykke Kristiansen forthcoming in Health Economics.

Parental illness or death is a devastating event for a child. In an average primary school class in Denmark, one child will lose a parent before graduating from high school, and two to three children will experience a serious health event affecting a parent.

The paper explores how experiencing a severe but common parental health event during childhood affects the children’s mental health and educational outcomes. Following a parental health event, the child experience a decline in their mental wellbeing, measured by use of therapy and anti-depressant medication. The effect immediately occurs following the event and persists at least into early adulthood.

Experiencing a parental health event shortly before the ninth grade exam or application deadline to secondary schooling has negative effects on the child’s test scores and school enrollment. The effect on test scores seems to be short-term as children who experience the event more than one year before the exam do no different than children who experience the event after the exam. This suggests that children recover quickly academically.

However, the results also indicate that when the event happens can have long-term consequences for the child. If the parental health event happens shortly prior to the application deadline for secondary schooling, the child is less likely to be enrolled in school in the following five years and is more likely to have primary school as the highest achieved education five years after ninth grade.

The immediate effect on the child’s academic attainments indicates that emotional distress can have important immediate but also long-term implications, as time before making decisions about future education may be a sensitive period for later educational attainments.

The research is described in CEBI working paper 10-20 “SHORT- AND LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES OF SERIOUS PARENTAL HEALTH SHOCKS” A final version of the paper will be available shortly.