A few papers have found that mortality rises after the death of the spouse. Some researchers have inferred that this is due to a causal effect of this emotionally traumatic event. Further, married individuals generally live longer, so the loss of this “marriage protection” could be the cause of increased mortality. On the other hand, it could be the case that spouses “select” to partner with each other and engage in similar eating and exercise habits and thus have similar mortality. Further, spouses often partner on the basis of income-generating capacity and education which are also correlated with mortality. So does the death of a spouse cause an increase in mortality or is this just a case of marriage selection?
This question is what a paper by Espinosa and Evens (JHE 2008) tries to uncover. This authors look at informative deaths–deaths due to health an individual’s health condition–compared with uninformative deaths (e.g., motor vehicle accident, homicide). The authors find that men have a significant increase in mortality after the death of their spouse even when the death is “uninformative.” This authors conclude that for males, this bereavement effect of losing a wife is causing increased mortality.
For women, “The bereavement effect for surviving wives when their husband dies of an uninformative cause is small but with a large standard error, making it statistically indistinguishable from the effect for informative causes.” Thus, there seems that the death of a woman’s husband does not cause increased mortality.
Here is some scientific evidence that women are the stronger sex.
- Espinosa, Javier; Evans, William H (2008) “Heightened mortality after the death of a spouse: Marriage protection or marriage selection?” JHE, 27(5): 1326-1342.