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Sibling mortality burden in low-income countries: A descriptive analysis of sibling death in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean
Authors: Emily Smith-Greenaway and Abigail Weitzman
Source: PLOS ONE , DOI:
Topic(s): Child health
Childhood mortality
Mental Health
Country: More than one region
  Multiple Regions
Published: OCT 2020
Abstract: In high-income countries, emerging research suggests sibling bereavement can have significant health and life course consequences for young people. Yet, we know far less about its burden in lower-income countries. Due to higher fertility and mortality in lower-income countries, the level, timing, intensity, and circumstances surrounding sibling mortality are likely to follow patterns distinct from those in higher-income settings. Thus, in this study, we offer a descriptive overview of sibling death in 43 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Specifically, we analyze Demographic and Health Survey data from nationally representative samples of 352,930 15- to 34-year-old women, born between 1985 and 2003, to document experiences of sibling death before age 25. On average, roughly one-third of individuals report a deceased sibling in these countries; estimates reach 40–50% of respondents in multiple African countries, particularly those that have experienced conflict and war. Although some sibling deaths occurred before the focal respondent was born, most bereaved individuals recalled a death during their lifetime—often in late childhood/early adolescence. High proportions of bereaved respondents report multiple sibling deaths, highlighting the clustering of deaths within families. Even so, bereaved individuals tend to come from large families and thus frequently have a comparable number of surviving siblings as people who never experienced a sibling die. Together, the results offer a window into global inequality in childhood experiences, and they attest to the need for research that explores the implications of sibling mortality for young people in world regions where the experience is concentrated.