Unequal loss: Disparities in relational closeness to a COVID-19 death among U.S. older adults

Alicia R. Riley, Louise C. Hawkley, Lissette M. Piedra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: COVID-19 mortality occurred unevenly across U.S. demographic subgroups, leaving some communities harder hit than others. Black and Hispanic/Latino older adults are among those disproportionately affected by COVID-19 mortality, and in turn, COVID-19 bereavement. Because disparities in COVID-19 mortality may extend to COVID-19 bereavement, it is important to understand the incidence of COVID-19 bereavement among older adults at various degrees of relational closeness (e.g., spouse vs. household member vs. friend). Methods: We used the National Social Health and Aging Project (NSHAP) COVID Study to evaluate disparities in loss of a social network member to COVID-19 among U.S. older adults by race/ethnicity, language, and relational closeness. Multiple logistic regression was used to estimate the likelihood of experiencing a COVID-19 death in one's social network. Results: None of the English-speaking, non-Hispanic White respondents reported the loss of a household member or spouse to COVID-19. English-speaking, non-Hispanic Black and English-speaking, Hispanic older adults were overrepresented in reporting a death at every degree of relational closeness. However, close COVID-19 bereavement was most prevalent among Spanish-speaking older adults of any race. Although Spanish speakers comprised only 4.8% of the sample, half of the respondents who lost a spouse to COVID-19 were Spanish speakers. Language and ethnoracial group disparities persisted after controlling for age, sex, marital status, and education. Conclusions: Known ethnoracial disparities in COVID-19 mortality extend to COVID-19 bereavement among older adults. Because bereavement impacts health, Black, Latino, and Spanish-speaking communities need greater protection and investment to prevent disparities in bereavement from exacerbating disparities in later-life mental and physical health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • COVID-19 bereavement
  • COVID-19 mortality
  • Latino health
  • language barriers
  • pandemic recovery
  • racial/ethnic disparities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Unequal loss: Disparities in relational closeness to a COVID-19 death among U.S. older adults'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this