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Historical trends of survival among widows and widowers


  • Mineau, Geraldine P.
  • Smith, Ken R.
  • Bean, Lee L.


One of the most consistent findings in social demography is that recently widowed individuals, male or female, have higher rates of mortality than comparable married persons. These results are based generally on contemporary studies in developed nations where life expectancy is high. Because of data limitations, there are few studies available to determine whether these findings also occur when mortality rates were higher. This study uses the Utah Population Database that was developed from extensive family genealogies and now linked to Utah death certificates. These data make it possible to employ life course analysis of four marriage cohorts extending from 1860 through 1904 with mortality follow-up to 1990. This approach is used to compare mortality risks of widowed males and females relative to comparable married individuals. Covariates included in the study are remarriage, as well as religion and number of children ever born; these are all hypothesized to have protective effects on mortality risks for widowed men and women. Analysis of these data indicates that there are significant differences in the mortality risk for widowed men and women, and it is widowed men who have an excess risk of dying in every cohort and nearly every age. A consistent pattern of excess mortality in the comparison of married and widowed women was not observed. There are significant female and male differences in the effect of religion which was treated as a proxy for life style and social support; however, remarriage as a proxy for social support has similar protective effects on the surviving spouse.

Suggested Citation

  • Mineau, Geraldine P. & Smith, Ken R. & Bean, Lee L., 2002. "Historical trends of survival among widows and widowers," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 245-254, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:54:y:2002:i:2:p:245-254

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    Cited by:

    1. Espinosa, Javier & Evans, William N., 2008. "Heightened mortality after the death of a spouse: Marriage protection or marriage selection?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(5), pages 1326-1342, September.
    2. Goldman, Alyssa W., 2016. "All in the family: The link between kin network bridging and cardiovascular risk among older adults," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 166(C), pages 137-149.
    3. Liu, Hui, 2012. "Marital dissolution and self-rated health: Age trajectories and birth cohort variations," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(7), pages 1107-1116.
    4. Jang, Soong-Nang & Kawachi, Ichiro & Chang, Jiyeun & Boo, Kachung & Shin, Hyun-Gu & Lee, Hyejung & Cho, Sung-il, 2009. "Marital status, gender, and depression: Analysis of the baseline survey of the Korean Longitudinal Study of Ageing (KLoSA)," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(11), pages 1608-1615, December.
    5. Kang, Jeong-han & Kim, Jibum & Lee, Min-Ah, 2016. "Marital status and mortality: Does family structure in childhood matter?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 159(C), pages 152-160.
    6. Merlo, Juan & Viciana-Fernández, Francisco J. & Ramiro-Fariñas, Diego, 2012. "Bringing the individual back to small-area variation studies: A multilevel analysis of all-cause mortality in Andalusia, Spain," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(8), pages 1477-1487.
    7. Noymer, Andrew, 2009. "Testing the influenza-tuberculosis selective mortality hypothesis with Union Army data," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(9), pages 1599-1608, May.
    8. Smith, Ken R. & Mineau, Geraldine P. & Garibotti, Gilda & Kerber, Richard, 2009. "Effects of childhood and middle-adulthood family conditions on later-life mortality: Evidence from the Utah Population Database, 1850-2002," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(9), pages 1649-1658, May.
    9. Heidi Hanson & Ken Smith & Zachary Zimmer, 2015. "Reproductive History and Later-Life Comorbidity Trajectories: A Medicare-Linked Cohort Study From the Utah Population Database," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 52(6), pages 2021-2049, December.

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