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Author Notes:


Heeju Sohn, Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Methodology, Writing – original draft

Stefan Timmermans, Conceptualization, Data curation, Funding acquisition, Writing – original draft

Pamela J. Prickett, Data curation, Funding acquisition, Writing – review & editing


Research Funding:

This project was supported by Grant Number K99HD096322 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The authors also benefited from facilities and resources provided by the California Center for Population Research at UCLA (CCPR), which receives core support (P2C-HD041022) from NICHD. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


  • isolation
  • economic hardship
  • family dynamics
  • migration
  • lonely death
  • remains
  • unclaimed deaths

Loneliness in life and in death? Social and demographic patterns of unclaimed deaths


Journal Title:

PLoS One


Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


We examined family isolation, economic hardship, and long-distance migration as potential patterns of an extreme outcome of a lonely death: bodily remains that remain unclaimed and are left to the state. This paper combines a unique dataset—Los Angeles County's records of unclaimed deaths—with the Vital Statistics' Mortality data and the Annual Social and Economic Survey (ASEC) to examine 1) whose remains are more likely to become unclaimed after death and, 2) whether population-level differences and trends in family isolation, economic hardship, and long-distance migration explain the differences in the rates of unclaimed deaths. We employ multivariate Poisson models to estimate relative rates of unclaimed deaths by social and demographic characteristics. We find that increases in never married, divorced/separated, and living without family were positively associated with rates of unclaimed deaths. Unemployment among men and poverty among women was associated with higher unclaimed deaths. Long-distance migration was not associated with more unclaimed bodies.

Copyright information:

© 2020 Sohn et al

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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