This is how people who lost their parents became successful

Many successful people experience parental loss as a child

Grieving the loss of a parent changes a person on the inside. Most people would agree that the worst age to lose a parent would be some time during childhood. Interestingly, science shows that people who have experienced parental loss as a child disproportionately make up a good population of successful people, including American writers, presidents of the United States, and British prime ministers. 


In 1970, a study was performed by Lucille Iremonger that showed people with exceptional levels of personal achievements in certain areas frequently experienced parental loss through death or desertion during childhood. The subjects of the study were 24 British prime ministers who had been in office from the years 1809 to 1940. Results showed that 62 percent of these men lost one or even both parents by the age of 15. At that time, the national average for this occurrence in the general population was between 10 and 15 percent.


A subsequent study was conducted that explored the predictions made by the original 1970 research and the results were similar. This time, three groups were examined which included presidents of the United States, eminent American writers, and the 100 most-influential individuals of the 20th century as rated by Life magazine. According to the abstract of the study on PubMed: 


“Bereavement was common in the childhoods of these outstanding individuals, but was also high, or even higher, for those individuals who achieved somewhat less eminence (less successful writers, and presidential also-rans). More than half the total set of the presidents and also-rans were orphans. Eminent Americans showed substantial although lower levels of parental loss, and nearly three-quarters had experienced difficult childhoods that were marked by some form of loss.”

What are “eminent orphans”?

One of the most devastating things that can ever happen to a child is to lose a parent. Their entire world is turned upside down, overnight. Felix Brown, a psychologist, reports that prisoners are two to three times more likely to have experienced the loss of a parent in comparison to the population as a whole. 


A new book by the author Malcom Gladwell describes the death of a father or mother at a young age, as a catalyst, or a spur that propels the child catapulting into life. The child has no choice. They are on their own without that parent in their life anymore. They need to go on and create their own path through life. Gladwell dubs this category “eminent orphans”. 

Leaders who lost a parent as a child

As predicted by the Phaeton theory, there are many leaders, including several presidents, who lost a parent during childhood. In fact, almost a third of all U.S. presidents lost a father during their childhood, and they are:


  • George Washington
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • James Monroe
  • Andrew Jackson
  • Andrew Johnson
  • Rutherford Hayes
  • James Garfield
  • Grover Cleveland
  • Herbert Hoover
  • Gerald Ford
  • Bill Clinton
  • Barack Obama 


Marvin Eisenstadt is a psychologist who poured through many different major encyclopedias searching for biographies of people who “merited more than one column” and made some discoveries that support the Phaeton Theory. According to his research, out of 573 people:


"a quarter had lost at least one parent before the age of 10. By age 15, 34.5 percent had had at least one parent die, and by the age of 20, 45 percent. Even for the years before the 20th century, when life expectancy due to illness and accidents and warfare was much lower than it is today, those are astonishing numbers."

Is parental loss and success merely a coincidence?

In his book, Gladwell never comes out and states that the loss of a parent will increase the chance of success in one's life. However, because there are several studies that show similar results, the occurrence of "eminent orphans" is strangely high. You can find the correlation made in these studies here and here .


The topic is sensitive in nature, because common sense would tell us the exact opposite, that the children with intact families who get more love, support, and protection would have the advantage and higher rates of success. Moreover, it sounds inappropriate to call a major life catastrophe a career booster, although there does seem to be a correlation. So, what is it that makes these individuals more successful? Children who grew up with missing parents have plenty of muscle, grit, and self-reliance, which are valuable qualities that often lead to success.


Regardless of the exact rationale, it is still surprising to see that such a high proportion of very successful individuals suffered parental loss at a young age. It’s quite possible that their grief in childhood perhaps had nothing to do with their paths to success, but it’s puzzling to see so many of them at the very top of their professions. Perhaps one conclusion that could be drawn from this correlation is the notion that pain trumps love.


One must ponder on the price. Is it worth experiencing such a loss for eminence later in life? There are times when children may be hurt by their parents, but the fact is, losing a parent hurts far more. What we can all take in as the moral of the story is that pain is an inevitable part of life, but how we handle it is what makes the difference and shapes us into the people we become later in life.

Dealing with the loss of a parent

Even though the long-term timeline shows that many of these people become highly successful, when a child experiences such a profound loss, it’s important they work through that grief. Encouraging the child to attend a parent loss support group or to create a unique and loving memorial for the deceased are good strategies to help them through this path. You can even create diamond memorial jewelry.


Many children who lost parents have found comfort in having a diamond grown from the cremated ashes of the departed. This diamond can be set into a high-quality piece of jewelry and worn by the bereaved, which can be very comforting.