Short- and long-term associations between widowhood and mortality in the United States: longitudinal analyses.

TitleShort- and long-term associations between widowhood and mortality in the United States: longitudinal analyses.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsJ Moon, R, M. Glymour, M, Vable, AM, Liu, SY, Subramanian, SV
JournalJ Public Health (Oxf)
Date Published2014 Sep
ISSN Number1741-3850
KeywordsBereavement, Female, Humans, Longitudinal Studies, Male, Middle Aged, Mortality, Risk Factors, Sex Factors, Socioeconomic factors, Time Factors, United States, Widowhood

BACKGROUND: Past research shows that spousal death results in elevated mortality risk for the surviving spouse. However, most prior studies have inadequately controlled for socioeconomic status (SES), and it is unclear whether this 'widowhood effect' persists over time.

METHODS: Health and Retirement Study participants aged 50+ years and married in 1998 (n = 12 316) were followed through 2008 for widowhood status and mortality (2912 deaths). Discrete-time survival analysis was used to compare mortality for the widowed versus the married.

RESULTS: Odds of mortality during the first 3 months post-widowhood were significantly higher than in the continuously married (odds ratio (OR) for men = 1.87, 95% CI: 1.27, 2.75; OR for women = 1.47, 95% CI: 0.96, 2.24) in models adjusted for age, gender, race and baseline SES (education, household wealth and household income), behavioral risk factors and co-morbidities. Twelve months following bereavement, men experienced borderline elevated mortality (OR = 1.16, 95% CI: 1.00, 1.35), whereas women did not (OR = 1.07, 95% CI: 0.90, 1.28), though the gender difference was non-significant.

CONCLUSION: The 'widowhood effect' was not fully explained by adjusting for pre-widowhood SES and particularly elevated within the first few months after widowhood. These associations did not differ by sex.

User Guide Notes

Endnote Keywords

Widowhood/Spousal Loss/Mortality/Longitudinal Studies/Socioeconomic Status

Endnote ID


Alternate JournalJ Public Health (Oxf)
Citation Key8029
PubMed ID24167198
PubMed Central IDPMC4181424
Grant ListAG037889 / AG / NIA NIH HHS / United States
U01AG009740 / AG / NIA NIH HHS / United States