Variation in the Effect of Widowhood on Mortality by the Causes of Death of Both Spouses

Abstract

Objectives: We investigate the effect of spousal bereavement on mortality, and we extend prior work by documenting cause-specific bereavement effects by the causes of death both of the pre-decedent spouse and the bereaved survivor.

Methods: We examined a nationally representative cohort of 373,189 elderly married couples in the United States, followed from 1993 to 2002, using competing-risk and Cox models. Covariates included the baseline health of both spouses.

Results: In both men and women, there is significant variation in the effect of widowhood on mortality as a function of the causes of death of both spouses. The death of a spouse due to almost all causes, including various cancers, infections, and cardiovascular diseases, increases the mortality of the surviving spouse, albeit to varying degrees. Conversely, the death of a spouse increases survivor’s cause-specific mortality for almost all causes, including cancers, infections, and cardiovascular diseases, albeit to varying degrees.

Conclusions: The effect of widowhood on mortality varies substantially by the causes of death of both spouses, suggesting that the widowhood effect is not restricted to one aspect of human biology.

Authors

Bibliography

F. Elwert and N. A. Christakis, “Variation in the Effect of Widowhood on Mortality by the Causes of Death of Both Spouses,” American Journal of Public Health, 98(11): 2092-2098 (Nov 2008) DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.114348

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