Mortality Differences in Widowhood

Allison Sullivan, University of Pennsylvania

Being widowed elevates mortality risk relative to married men or women of the same age. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, I test for differences in widowhood mortality by education, number of children, and how sudden or expected the death of the pre-decedent spouse was. Consistent with other studies, I find an increased hazard of mortality upon widowhood. In contrast with other studies but consistent with the larger literature on SES and mortality, education is protective in widowhood. Number of children has a u-shaped association with widowhood mortality, with those having 3-4 children facing lowest levels of mortality after death of a spouse. Lingering deaths of the predecedent spouse are worse for the surviving spouse than sudden deaths or other types of death. These findings illuminate mechanisms through which mortality is affected by widowhood, and provide evidence on the power of SES and social support in vulnerable populations.

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Presented in Poster Session 3