Anecdotes abound of widows and widowers who passed away just weeks or even days after the death of their longtime spouse. This phenomenon is known as the widower effect, but is it true? After the death of a spouse, does the mortality rate of the surviving spouse actually increase?
A U.S. Health and Retirement Study used data from 12,316 married people age 50 and older in 1998. The observation period was from 1998 to 2008, during which there were 2,912 deaths in the sample group.
The researchers found that there was indeed a widowhood effect for at least the first three months after a spouse’s death. During this period, male survivors were particularly affected as their mortality rate was 87 percent higher than normal.
For example, if the normal 12-month mortality rate is 5 percent, the mortality rate increases to about 9 percent for male survivors (and about 7 percent for female survivors).
As the graph shows, the widow effect is fairly short-lived. It lasts up to six months for female survivors, but only three months for male survivors. During the first 3 to 6 months after a woman’s spouse dies, a man’s mortality rate actually increases. drop An increase of almost 30%.
In other words, male survivors have a higher than normal mortality rate if they can survive the first three months. Perhaps men grieve more intensely than women, but learn to adapt faster?
After 6 months, the widowhood effect becomes negligible for both men and women. Although this is an American study, there is little reason to think the results would be much different in Canada.