Despite Medical Advancement, American Widows Still Face Higher Mortality Risk
Hui Liu, study author and assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University, analysed the data of more than a half-million people in the federal government's National Health Interview Survey and found that the overall mortality rate for married people decreased from 1986 to 2000.
The mortality rate for the never-married also decreased, although it remained higher than that of married people.
But when it came to widowed people, the overall mortality rate increased especially among white women.
"It's a bit surprising to me," Liu said of the growing mortality rate for the widowed.
"With the improvements in medical technology, it seems all population groups should be healthier and living longer," she added.
Another study led by Liu showed a significant decline in self-reported health among the widowed from 1972 to 2003 in the United States.
In general, widowhood is associated with reduced economic resources and loss of social support, which may contribute to a higher mortality risk, says the new study.
But the stress and emotional trauma of losing a spouse as a confidant might be greater now than in the past as the average duration of marriage becomes longer with increasing life expectancy, the study notes.
Further, men and women generally are losing their spouse later in life - another factor that may contribute to a more frail widowed population.
"The growing mortality gap between the married and the unmarried, especially the widowed, raises concerns," Liu said.
"As a frail population in terms of health status and mortality, the widowed clearly warrant greater research and policy attention," she added.
The study appears in the Journal of Marriage and Family.