A tidal wave of grief resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic has now swept up 4 million Americans. The official loss of 500,000 people is hard enough to imagine. But for every death that the coronavirus has caused there is “bereavement multiplier” that gives some sense of the true scale of this tragedy.
A recent study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) sought to measure the extent of the nation’s grief.
The researchers were concerned about the health issues that can arise from bereavement and social support reductions. Their estimates focus exclusively on kin loss – for each Covid death, how many people are at risk for losing a close relative – but do not consider other emotional ties such as friendship.
Even on this conservative measure, the study found that for every Covid-19 death, approximately nine close family members are left to grieve. Given that the death toll has just passed 500,000, the number of people experiencing a family bereavement in the US is estimated at 4.5 million.
To reach their estimate, the researchers looked at five types of familial relationships; grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse and child. For instance, they discovered a bereavement multiplier of four for grandparents (meaning that for every 1,000 people that die, on average, 4,000 grandchildren will be left to grieve).
Their final calculation – that 8.91 people will grieve for every 1 Covid-death – was consistent between Black and white demographic groups but it did vary by age. Those who die after the age of 70 will typically have a lower bereavement multiplier than those who die at a younger age.
As the Covid-19 continues to disrupt our lives, research like this will improve our understanding of the social impact of health crises that will reverberate in the years to come.