New estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that around 1% of children who were born between 1971 and 2000 experienced maternal bereavement before the age of 16 years in England and Wales.

This could mean that around 7,000 children are currently born each year who will go on to experience the death of their mother before the age of 16 years across both countries.

These estimates are based on information from the Longitudinal Study, which has followed a section of the population since 1971 and is the largest study of its kind in the country. An estimate for how this affects the current population is worked out by applying the percentage of affected children from this study to the total estimated number of under-16’s in England and Wales in 20171.

There is less detail within the study on fathers, but based on known mortality trends it is estimated that the number of children who lost a father by this age could be around twice as high as the number who lost a mother.

Based on this initial research, which was prompted by a request for data on bereaved children, work is underway to look at the issue in more depth to understand how losing a parent may affect a child’s educational outcomes.

Deputy National Statistician Iain Bell said:

“Since this issue was raised with us we’ve been looking at the data we have to provide new insight. This data opens a window into another potentially vulnerable section of our population.

“The information today gives us an idea of the scale of who is affected but we want to be able to shine a light on the impact early bereavement can have; what the effect of losing a parent is likely to be on a child and the challenges they might face in later life.

“As an organisation, we are looking at how we can provide better statistics to help make better decisions to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society. This is the latest in a series of data we have produced with this aim and we are planning to continue as we look to new technologies and data sources to improve our understanding.”

ONS is working to contribute insights into the wellbeing of vulnerable people in the UK and will work with other organisations to explore data sources that can lead to more studies into how bereavement can affect children in later life.

In December, ONS produced a study into the number of deaths of homeless people, which found that 597 people died on the streets of England and Wales in 2017.

In June, ONS published research on the number of suicides amongst higher education students, which showed that whilst overall suicide rates in students had gone up, they had not risen consistently and remained lower than among the general population.

Information from the Longitudinal Study has previously been used to make various estimates including ‘The mean age of mother at birth of first child, by highest achieved educational qualifications, 1996 - 2016, England and Wales’ and ‘What is the long-term impact of having children on the economic activity of women?

More information about how this estimate was worked out can be found on the ONS blog, National Statistical. You can read the published data set related to this estimate on the ONS Website.

  1. It should be noted that the conclusion that 1% of children may lose their mother is based on data for 1971 to 2000.