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The Wealth and Poverty of Widows: Assets Before and After the Husband's Death

In: The Economics of Aging


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  • Michael D. Hurd
  • David A. Wise


We verify that widows are much more likely than couples to be poor and that they make up a large proportion of the poor elderly; 80 percent are widows or other single individuals. Then we seek to explain why the single elderly are poor, with emphasis on widows. We do this by tracing back over time their financial status, using the Longitudinal Retirement History Survey. The death of the husband very often induces the poverty of the surviving spouse, even though the married couple was not poor. While only about 9 percent of prior couples are poor, approximately 35 percent of the subsequent widows are. A large proportion of the wealth of the couple is lost when the husband dies. In addition we find that: (1) the prior households of poor widows earned and saved less than the prior households of non-poor widows, (2) more of the smaller accumulated wealth was lost at the death of the husband, (3) the absence of survivorship benefits or life insurance insured that the loss in wealth would leave the widow poor thereafter.

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This chapter was published in:

  • David A. Wise, 1989. "The Economics of Aging," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number wise89-1, Ekim.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 11582.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:11582

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    1. Michael D. Hurd & John B. Shoven, 1982. "The Economic Status of the Elderly," NBER Working Papers 0914, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Michael D. Hurd, 1989. "The Poverty of Widows: Future Prospects," NBER Chapters, in: The Economics of Aging, pages 201-230 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Zvi Bodie & John B. Shoven, 1983. "Financial Aspects of the United States Pension System," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bodi83-1, Ekim.
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