Gender differences in the depressive effect of widowhood in later life

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2001 Jan;56(1):S56-61. doi: 10.1093/geronb/56.1.s56.


Objectives: This study documented the stronger adverse effect of widowhood on the psychological well-being of men than that of women and explained why this gender difference in the effect of widowhood exists.

Methods: Data came from Wave 1 of the National Survey of Families and Households. Married and widowed people aged 65 and older were selected (n = 1,686). The dependent variable was the Center for Epidemiologic Studies--Depression scale (CES-D).

Results: Widowhood was indeed more depressing for men than women. However, this was due primarily to the fact that married men were much less depressed than married women; widowed men and women were comparably depressed. Other contributors to the stronger effect of widowhood for men included men's shorter average time since widowhood, lower frequency of church attendance, stronger dislike of domestic labor, and lessened ability to assist their children.

Discussion: Although widowhood has a strong depressive effect for older men, its effect for women is nonsignificant, and it explains a small proportion of the variation in depressive symptomatology. This suggests that most people, particularly women, adapt relatively well in the long run.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Widowhood / psychology*