Objectives: Despite the large body of literature on bereavement, little is known about the impact of sociohistorical context on individual reactions to spousal loss. This study examines the effect of marital status, time period and gender on physical and mental health, and whether reported difficulties following spousal loss differ at 2 distinctive time periods.
Method: Two cohorts of older bereaved persons (n = 753) in Switzerland, surveyed in 1979 and 2011, were compared regarding their reports of difficulties related to marital loss. The bereaved spouses were also compared with a group of married contemporaries (n = 1,517) regarding subjective health and depressive symptoms.
Results: Marital status and gender each have independent effects on subjective health and depressive symptoms. The effects of widowhood on subjective health differed significantly at both time points. Widowed individuals in 2011, especially women, reported fewer social and financial difficulties than their counterparts in 1979. However, the effect of widowhood on depressive symptoms and psychological difficulties did not differ significantly across time points.
Discussion: Social changes in the late 20th century may be protective for older adults' physical, social, and financial well-being in the face of spousal loss, yet these changes do not alleviate widow(er)s' psychological distress.
Keywords: Bereavement; Depressive symptoms; Gender; Marital status; Social change; Widowhood.
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