Mortality after the death of a spouse: rates and causes of death in a large Finnish cohort

Am J Public Health. 1996 Aug;86(8):1087-93. doi: 10.2105/ajph.86.8_pt_1.1087.


Objectives: This study examines excess mortality among Finnish persons after the death of a spouse, by sex, the subject's cause of death, duration of bereavement, and age.

Methods: The subjects were 1580000 married Finnish persons aged 35 through 84 years who were followed up from 1986 through 1991.

Results: Excess mortality among the bereaved was high from accidental, violent, and alcohol-related causes (50% to 150%), moderate for chronic ischemic heart disease and lung cancer (20% to 35%), and small for other causes (5% to 15%). Excess mortality was greater at short ( < 6 months) rather than long durations of bereavement and among younger rather than older bereaved persons for most causes of death; it was also greater among men that women.

Conclusions: The results are consistent with the hypothesis that excess mortality after the death of a spouse is partly caused by stress. The loss of social support or the inability to cope with stress may explain why men suffer from bereavement more than do women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bereavement
  • Cause of Death*
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Sex Distribution
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Widowhood* / psychology
  • Widowhood* / statistics & numerical data