Sharing life with a partner is associated in an important way with personal welfare, a enjoy better health already live in one more comfortable economic position. Instead, the death of a partner, becoming a widow, can be one of the most devastating events in a person’s life.
Grief, being strongly influenced by our culture, can be very different between even close societies. Also the age at which this circumstance occurs, gender, economic situation derived from the loss of a partner or the previous state of health are factors that can affect the widowed person with greater or less intensity.
Also, the time dimension it is a fundamental element to deepen the understanding of the negative effects of being a widow. The works from the field of psychology show numerous examples of adaptive trajectories. They identify differences in adaptation times and patterns after an event, be it positive, like winning the lottery or finding a partner, or negative, such as suffering from an illness or losing a job, influenced by individual, contextual and social elements.
Short and medium term effects and social circumstances of being widowed
With this in mind, we set out to analyze the Effects of being widowed on well-being, health, and use of health and personal care services. The analysis is directed to 27 European countries plus Israel, differentiating between short-term effects (2 years after being widowed) and medium-term (4-5 years after this event).
For this purpose, the European survey on health, aging and retirement is used Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (COMPARTIR). This longitudinal database includes information on 120,000 people aged 50 or over about their personal characteristics, their health status, their financial situation or their use of health and social resources, among others. The period analyzed goes from 2004 to 2015.
The applied analysis method is a pairing variant called genetic matching (genetic coincidence), where we compare the evolution of people who were married or lived with a partner and were widowed in the next wave (treatment group) with the situation of people who, being in the same initial situation (married or with a partner), they maintain their state in the consecutive wave (control group).
The results confirm that being widowed is associated with a negative evolution of the perception of well-being and with a worsening of mental health. The use of long-term care services (both professional and non-professional, that is, care provided by families) is also increasing. In contrast, no greater use of health services was identified.
Likewise, the effects identified are more intense in the short term than in the medium. In other words, we identify the existence of an adaptive element that softens the negative impact of being a widow on perceived well-being and the use of long-term care (partial adaptation) or makes them disappear completely in the case of health effects (full adaptation).
Greater effect in women than in men
Another element to highlight is that these results must be qualified according to sex, age and country of residence. Thus, the identified effect on mental health in widowed women was greater than the effect observed in widowed men. In addition, women presented a greater use of non-professional (family) care than widowed men, while in the latter a greater use of professional care was revealed.
Regarding age, it was observed that the negative effect of being widowed was more intense on the mental health of younger people (under 65 years of age), observing an adaptation effect (almost complete disappearance of the effect) in the medium term.
Finally, the intensity of the effect on health and the use of resources was also different by geographical area. Thus, in southern European countries the effect of being widowed on mental health was more intense than in people residing in central and northern Europe, observing an adaptive element with the complete disappearance of the effect in the medium term.
Impaired mental health
In sum, the results of this study confirm the existence of an important risk in the deterioration of the mental health of people who are widowed, especially in the first years after suffering this event, and a change in their needs and organization of care.
This information suggests that access to early psychological care should be made easier for newly widowed people. Likewise, the results obtained confirm the need to focus more effort on people who have just been widowed in terms of providing personal care, maintaining the provision of this type of care also in the medium term.
Juan Oliva Moreno, Professor of Health Economics, Castilla-La Mancha university; Beatriz Rodríguez Sánchez, Assistant Professor of Applied Economics, specialized in health economics, Complutense University of Madrid and Luz Maria Peña Longobardo, Professor of the Department of Economic Analysis and Finance, Castilla-La Mancha university
This article was originally published on The Conversation. read the original.