The effects of widowhood on physical and mental health, health behaviors, and health outcomes: The Women's Health Initiative

Health Psychol. 2003 Sep;22(5):513-22. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.22.5.513.


This study examined whether widowhood was associated with physical and mental health, health behaviors, and health outcomes using a cross-sectional (N=72,247) and prospective (N=55,724) design in women aged 50-79 years participating in the Women's Health Initiative observational study (85.4% White). At baseline, married women reported better physical and mental health and generally better health behaviors than widowed women. Whereas women who remained married over the 3-year period showed stability in mental health, recent widows experienced marked impairments and longer term widows showed stability or slight improvements. Both groups of widows reported more unintentional weight loss over the 3-year period. Changes in physical health and health behaviors were inconsistent, with generally small effect sizes. Findings underscore the resilience of older women and their capacity to reestablish connections, but point to the need for services that strengthen social support among women who have difficulty during this transition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • United States
  • Widowhood / psychology*
  • Women's Health*