Gender differences in widowhood in the short-run and long-run: Financial, emotional, and mental wellbeing

By Jialu L. Streeter, Research Scholar
Stanford Center on Longevity

 The vast majority of studies of the widowed have concentrated on women. Less is known about whether differences in financial and emotional wellbeing after bereavement vary systematically with the gender of the surviving spouse. This paper analyzes the consequences of widowhood on the economic resources and emotional and mental stability of men and women in the United States. Data are from the 1992–2016 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). A panel fixed-effect model is adopted to estimate the impact of widowhood on household size-adjusted income, family wealth, affects, and somatic symptoms.

The results show that though both men and women are negatively impacted by widowhood, the areas of impact vary across gender. Women’s financial security and men’s mental health deteriorate as a direct result of spousal losses. Women experience a 22% income reduction and a 10% wealth loss in the first two years after losing a spouse. In subsequent years, widows continue to decumulate wealth to supplement income. In contrast, men’s financial conditions stay relatively stable, but their emotional and mental health conditions worsen sharply in widowhood due to rising rates of loneliness, depression, and sadness. The results bear strong policy implications for retirement planning, survivor benefits, financial education, and public awareness of the psychological wellbeing of widowed individuals.