The Gendered Widowhood Effect and the Social Mortality Gradient

Filip Dabergott , Stockholm University

Inequality in mortality risk by income and educational level has been found to be greater among men than among women in a large number of studies. It is also well documented that men experience a greater widowhood effect, or increase in mortality risk after becoming widowed. However, when I examine these two associations jointly, they appear to be influencing each other. This study shows that the disparities in mortality risk by socioeconomic status (SES) are greater among men than among women mainly when it comes to those who are married. In widowhood, the mortality disparities by SES are diminished for men and elevated (income) or unchanged (educational level) for women. This weakens, and even reverses, the respective association between gender and mortality disparity by income/education. Further, I find that the widowhood effect increases in size with higher income- and educational level among men. Among women, the effect decreases with income, while no clear pattern is evident over the educational categories. The widowhood effect is stronger for men than for women in all income- and educational categories except for the lowest ones. In light of the literature on widowhood mortality, my conclusion from the results is that socioeconomic status increases men’s exposure to post-loss stressors more than it increases their ability to handle these stressors. The greater widowhood effect for women in the lower SES-categories may reflect exposure to inequalities in the health care system and financial stress for this group.

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 Presented in Session 16. Family Dynamics and Survival Patterns