The economic consequences of widowhood on elderly women in the United States and Germany

Gerontologist. 2001 Feb;41(1):103-10. doi: 10.1093/geront/41.1.103.


Purpose: Different countries have different goals for social welfare policy. Consequently, it is reasonable to expect different outcomes after certain events. This article examines changes in the economic well-being of elderly women at widowhood in the United States and Germany.

Design and methods: Longitudinal data from the U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics and the German Socioeconomic Panel were used to prepare a sample of elderly widows. Economic wellbeing the year before the husband's death was compared with economic well-being the year after the husband's death.

Results: Although the prevalence of poverty is different in the two countries, most widows in both countries experienced a decline in living standards, and many actually fell into poverty at widowhood. A fall in Social Security and pension income was the largest contributor to the fall in living standards.

Implications: The retirement income system in both countries seems to be adequate for married couples but appears to fail for widows.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Education
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Middle Aged
  • Pensions
  • Poverty* / economics
  • Retirement
  • Social Security* / economics
  • United States
  • Widowhood / economics*
  • Women*