Widowhood and Depression: Explaining Long-Term Gender Differences in Vulnerability

  • Umberson D
  • Wortman C
  • Kessler R
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Abstract

Results from a 1986 national survey (N = 3,614) show that having ever been widowed is associated with current levels of depression and that this association is greater for men than women. Some of this apparent gender difference occurs because men have been widowed for a shorter average period of time than women and the effects of widowhood appear to lessen over time. Widowhood also is associated with different types and amounts of life strain for men and women. The results suggest that the primary mechanism linking widowhood to depression among women is financial strain. Among men, the more critical mechanisms seem to be strains associated with household management. When specific strains occur, they appear to have different effects on respondents who have ever been widowed and those who have not. Taken together, these results suggest that what appears on the surface to be a gender difference in vulnerability to the same life event turns out upon closer examination to occur because widowhood does not affect men and women in the same way.

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Authors

  • Debra Umberson

  • Camille B. Wortman

  • Ronald C. Kessler

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