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Widowhood

Demography Of The Widowed, Bereavement And Adaptation, Bereavement And Developmental Stages, Gender Differences, Social Support And Reintegration


Losing one's mate is among the most stressful of all life events. It presents painful adaptational challenges to spouses and families. The loss dramatically marks the transition to widowhood and impacts an increasing proportion of the diverse aging population. Worldwide evidence shows a broad range of responses to widowhood. Cross-cultural variations among marital survivors reflect the changing cultural values of particular societies (Lopata 1996). For example, in the past Hindu widows were treated harshly in the highly patriarchal society of India. Loss of a husband meant a loss of status, economic dependency, and social isolation. Remarriage was not encouraged. Although still far from receiving equitable treatment in comparison to widowers, widows' situation has gradually improved over time. In Israel, which is also a strongly religious and patriarchal society, war widows are given greater recognition and preferential benefits in comparison with their civilian counterparts. Remarriage is not discouraged, as it was in India. In an earlier agriculturally based Korean society, becoming a widow resulted in lower status and a general prohibition against remarriage. Under the influences of growing modernization, including urbanization and industrialization, the cultural status of widows improved, especially for those who moved to the cities.

Widows in parts of the world undergoing modernization also find such conditions allow them a more flexible role compared to the past. It is difficult, however, to make international comparisons on this topic. Date gathered by the United Nations Statistics Division during the 1990s show considerable variation in the widowed population both within and between countries and regions of the world. For example, in Egypt three-fifths of those women sixty years of age and over are widows, compared to slightly more than two-fifths in Ethiopia. Moreover, the available rates are not systematically calculated in terms of age categories and time periods. Thus, for some countries, the percentage are based upon the widowed fifty-five years of age and over, whereas in other countries the base is fifty years of age or over.

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaOther Marriage & Family Topics