The Taub Center has published a new study that examines the impact of a loss of a nuclear family member when a child is young on their later academic achievements. The study, conducted by Dr. Yael Navon, Dr. Carmel Blank, Prof. Yossi Shavit, and Prof. John Gal, shows that children who have experienced a loss when they are young (from ages one to six) have a lower chance of qualifying for a bagrut certificate relative to those who did not experience such a loss. In other words, bereavement at a young age can create social and economic gaps. The study also found that the loss of a parent or the loss of a sibling has a similar influence on the young child, despite the centrality of a parent in a child’s early life. The study was conducted under the auspices of the Taub Center Initiative on Early Childhood Development and Inequality whose activities are generously supported by the Beracha Foundation, the Bernard van Leer Foundation, and Yad Hanadiv.
The analysis focused on the qualification for a bagrut certificate since it is a condition for entrance to higher education in Israel. As such, the lack of a bagrut certificate harms the chances of attaining an academic degree and future opportunities for employment positions of higher status and pay. In the long term, social and economic gaps are created between those who experienced a loss at a young age and others in their age cohort.
The study was based on a database of more than a million children born between 1985 and 1998. Among them, almost 2% of those in the study lost a parent or sibling when they were very young. That is to say, the death of a parent or sibling in early childhood is less infrequent than one might think.
The research found that the chances of a child who has experienced a loss of someone in their nuclear family qualifying for a bagrut certificate is 26% lower than that of someone who has not had the same experience. The study findings show that there is no significant difference between the death of a parent or that of a sibling with regard to the effect on later academic achievements. This finding is surprising given the centrality of a parent in a child’s life, especially a young child, and given the harsh realities of the death of a parent – an event that robs a child and family of economic resources as well as parental attention and guidance.
The research findings indicate that support policies of the Israeli welfare system that give preference in their assistance to bereaved military families over civilian families, and help those who have lost a parent to a greater extent than those who have lost a sibling, is not justified in terms of the child’s welfare.
The main assistance to a family that has lost a son or daughter in the army or due to terror attacks is given primarily to the spouse or parents of the deceased. Assistance is offered through centers that are spread throughout the country and Centers for Marriage and Family Therapy, which are almost completely funded by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs. In locations where there are no centers, family members are referred to private therapists, also paid for by the Ministry. Siblings of the deceased are also entitled to assistance, such as grants for higher education and emotional support of different types.
In contrast, civilian families who have experienced the loss of a parent or child following a traffic accident, homicide, suicide, or as the result of an illness or accident, are not entitled to care through these centers, and, in fact, are not entitled to any care of this type. Families in this category can turn for care to the Centers for Marriage and Family Therapy but are not offered a reduced fee and are seen subject to availability of resources. Care for these families also differentiates between the loss of a parent and that of a sibling, especially with regard to those services available through the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs.
In summary, study findings show that the death of a nuclear family member is associated with long term negative effects on academic achievements, and possible other long-term life effects. It is important for the welfare service system to provide emotional and material support to all family members who have experienced the loss of a parent or a child, regardless of the circumstances of that loss.