Widowhood and depression: New light on gender differences, selection, and psychological adjustment

Isaac Sasson, Debra J. Umberson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives. To document short- and long-term trajectories of depressive symptoms following widowhood and to test whether these trajectories vary by gender and anticipatory spousal loss. Method. Eight waves of prospective panel data from the Health and Retirement Study, over a 14-year period, are used to evaluate gender differences in depressive symptoms following widowhood in late midlife. Short-term trajectories are modeled using a linear regression of change in Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression (CES-D) score on duration of widowhood. Long-term trajectories are modeled using a mixed-effects hierarchical linear model of CES-D scores over time. Results. We find no gender differences in bereavement effects on depressive symptoms in either short or long term, net of widowhood duration. When spousal death is anticipated, both men and women return to their prewidowhood levels of depressive symptoms within 24 months of becoming widowed. Across marital groups, the continuously married are better off compared with the widowed even prior to spousal loss, whereas early, long-term widowhood is associated with worse outcomes compared with late widowhood. Discussion. Although men and women do not differ in trajectories of depressive symptoms following widowhood, given similar circumstances, women are distinctly disadvantaged in that they are more likely to become widowed and under less favorable conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-145
Number of pages11
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Volume69
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Adjustment
  • Bereavement
  • Depression
  • Gender differences
  • Widowhood

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