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The Economic Consequences of Widowhood

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  • David R. Weir

    (University of Michigan)

  • Robert J. Willis

    (University of Michigan)

  • Purvi A. Sevak

    (University of Michigan)

Abstract

We analyzed the economic consequences of a husband’s death using events that occurred between the first two waves of the HRS and AHEAD studies. We compared poverty transitions against published results from Social Security’s Retirement History Survey of the 1970s. Widowhood remains an important risk factor for transition into poverty, although somewhat less so than twenty years ago. Women over age 65 (AHEAD) are less likely to experience severe economic changes than women under age 61 (HRS). Several factors account for the age differences: the declining importance of husband’s earnings with age, the rising importance of Social Security benefits, and the occasionally large out-of-pocket medical expenses associated with husband’s death before Medicare eligibility. The greater economic impact of widowhood at younger ages is consistent with our cross-section evidence that poverty rates rise with duration of widowhood but are only weakly associated with age.

Suggested Citation

  • David R. Weir & Robert J. Willis & Purvi A. Sevak, 2002. "The Economic Consequences of Widowhood," Working Papers wp023, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp023
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. David A. Wise, 1989. "The Economics of Aging," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number wise89-1.
    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. Burkhauser, Richard V & Duncan, Greg J, 1991. "United States Public Policy and the Elderly: The Disproportionate Risk to the Well-Being of Women," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 4(3), pages 217-231, August.
    4. Michael D. Hurd & David A. Wise, 1989. "The Wealth and Poverty of Widows: Assets Before and After the Husband's Death," NBER Chapters, in: The Economics of Aging, pages 177-200, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Karen Holden & Richard Burkhauser & Daniel Feaster, 1988. "The timing of falls into poverty after retirement and widowhood," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 25(3), pages 405-414, August.
    6. David Weir & Robert Willis, "undated". "Prospects for Widow Poverty," Pension Research Council Working Papers 98-14, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
    7. Kathleen McGarry, 1995. "Measurement Error and Poverty Rates of Widows," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30(1), pages 113-134.
    8. Richard Burkhauser & Karen Holden & Daniel Myers, 1986. "Marital disruption and poverty: The role of survey procedures in artificially creating poverty," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 23(4), pages 621-631, November.
    9. Steven H. Sandell & Howard M. Iams, 1997. "Reducing women's poverty by shifting social security benefits from retired couples to widows," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 16(2), pages 279-297.
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    Cited by:

    1. van de Walle, Dominique, 2011. "Lasting welfare effects of widowhood in a poor country," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5734, The World Bank.
    2. Streeter, Jialu L., 2020. "Gender differences in widowhood in the short-run and long-run: Financial, emotional, and mental wellbeing," The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, Elsevier, vol. 17(C).
    3. Cherchye, Laurens & De Rock, Bram & Vermeulen, Frederic, 2012. "Economic well-being and poverty among the elderly: An analysis based on a collective consumption model," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(6), pages 985-1000.
    4. Brian S. Armour & M. Melinda Pitts, 2007. "Smoking: taxing health and Social Security," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, vol. 92(Q 3), pages 27-41.
    5. David R. Weir & Robert J. Willis, 2003. "Widowhood, Divorce, and Loss of Health Insurance Among Near Elderly Women: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," Working Papers wp040, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    6. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2011. "Were They Prepared for Retirement? Financial Status at Advanced Ages in the HRS and AHEAD Cohorts," NBER Chapters, in: Investigations in the Economics of Aging, pages 21-69, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Nicholas, Lauren Hersch & Baum, Micah Y., 2020. "Wills, public policy, and financial well-being among surviving spouses," The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, Elsevier, vol. 16(C).
    8. Kathleen McGarry & Robert F. Schoeni, 2003. "Medicare Gaps and Widow Poverty," Working Papers wp065, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.

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