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The Economic Consequences of Widowhood

  • David R. Weir

    (University of Michigan)

  • Robert J. Willis

    (University of Michigan)

  • Purvi A. Sevak

    (University of Michigan)

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.

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Paper provided by University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center in its series Working Papers with number wp023.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2002
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp023
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  1. Michael D. Hurd, 1987. "The Poverty of Widows: Future Prospects," NBER Working Papers 2326, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. 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, vol. 4(3), pages 217-31, August.
  3. Karen Holden & Richard Burkhauser & Daniel Feaster, 1988. "The timing of falls into poverty after retirement and widowhood," Demography, Springer, vol. 25(3), pages 405-414, August.
  4. Michael D. Hurd & David A. Wise, 1987. "The Wealth and Poverty of Widows: Assets Before and After the Husband's Death," NBER Working Papers 2325, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. 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.
  6. Richard Burkhauser & Karen Holden & Daniel Myers, 1986. "Marital disruption and poverty: The role of survey procedures in artificially creating poverty," Demography, Springer, vol. 23(4), pages 621-631, November.
  7. David Weir & Robert Willis, . "Prospects for Widow Poverty," Pension Research Council Working Papers 98-14, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
  8. Kathleen McGarry, 1995. "Measurement Error and Poverty Rates of Widows," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30(1), pages 113-134.
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