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Abstract

The impact of the early loss of one's father or one's mother on the survival and age at death of children was investigated on the basis of a historical reconstitution of families from the Krummhörn (East Frisia/Ostfriesland; Germany) with the aid of Kaplan-Meier plots and the Cox regression. In our analyses, we took into account the changed situation of the family after the death of a parent by incorporating the surviving spouse's remarriage or relationships with stepparents. We find that the impact on survival of the children was sex-specific and also depended on whether and at what point in time during childhood their father or mother had died. As expected, children's immediate survival was strongly affected by maternal loss. A few results can be construed as survival diminishing long-term consequences of the early loss of a parent. Daughters who lost their fathers before their first birthday proved to have increased mortality over a longer period of their youth. The age at death of daughters was also lowered if they had to live with a step-mother during early childhood. To interpret these results, three hypotheses, including an (intrinsic) trade-off, compensation and a selection scenario, were tested. Other approaches, which are based, for example, on the extrinsic trade-off between mating effort and parental investment of the surviving parent, also appear to be suitable as an explanation for the long-term consequences, which eventually draws the conclusion that the compensation scenario is the most likely explanation for the consequences of early parental loss. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.