*For the sake of this article, “widow” refers to both genders.
Widows are often an overlooked group in our society, but losing a spouse is one of the hardest things one can experience. On top of the emotional burdens that a death can bring, it may also result in major financial and lifestyle changes as well. In light of International Widows Day on June 23rd, let’s look at some facts about widowhood that may surprise you.
1. Widowhood Is More Common Than You Think
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 13 million widows in the United States and over 11 million of those widows are women. (1) We also see that men are more likely to remarry after losing a spouse, increasing the number of women who are alone in the latter years of their life.
2. Widowhood Can Happen Sooner Than You Think
If those numbers don’t shock you, consider this: the median age that widowhood occurs is 59.4. So if you picture all widows as being elderly people in the latter stages of their life, think again. Since the average life expectancy for men is 84.3 and 86.6 for women, that’s over 20 years of life left after a spouse dies. (2)
3. Widowhood Is One Of the Most Difficult Life Events
The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory tells us that the death of a spouse is hands-down the most stressful life event one can experience. (3) Many believe that the first year of widowhood is the most difficult. While it’s true that the shock and grief may be more encompassing during the early days, the deep sadness over the loss of a life partner, whether unexpected or not, marks you for the rest of your life.
Even if you move on outwardly, widowhood is often deeply isolating and can lead to mental and physical health issues. You may have heard of widows who suddenly pass away only weeks or months after their spouses die, otherwise known as the widowhood effect. There are only theories as to why this occurs, but the phenomenon leads us to the next reality of widowhood: the need for a community of support.
4. Widows Need More Support Than You Might Realize
Since widowhood is such an intense experience, widows need a strong support system to get them through the dark days. Many widows lose a large part of their support base when their spouse dies, either because of the loss of married friends or people being uncomfortable with grief. Regardless, in order to survive widowhood and even thrive again, widows need a strong support base to help them stay emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy.
Most often, family and friends gather around the grieving widow for a short period of time, then go on with their own lives. But widowhood doesn’t have an end date. Just because the surviving spouse made it through the first month or year doesn’t mean they aren’t still battling loneliness and isolation. Reach out to those close to you who are widowed and let them know that you are there for them.
5. Widowhood Wreaks Havoc on Your Finances
Did you know that poverty is often a hallmark of widowhood? (4) In fact, the Social Security Administration states that the rate of poverty among elderly widows is three to four times higher than their married counterparts. (5)
When couples are married for any length of time, they tend to create an economic bond. They become dependent on each other financially, so when one spouse is taken out of the picture, the whole thing can fall apart. It may be that the surviving spouse was not the primary breadwinner, or that the spouse who died was the one who handled all the finances. Regardless of the reasons, widows often struggle financially. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Widowhood is an extremely stressful, harrowing life event. While no one wants to think about the future death of their spouse, it’s critical for you to prepare yourself financially so you can eliminate one burden. Work with your spouse and your financial advisor so that you are aware of your financial situation, know where important documents and accounts are stored, and have an idea of income and expenses. Let me help you prepare your finances so you can experience peace of mind if widowhood happens to you. Give me a call at 770.249.7424 or email me today at [email protected].
Previously published on richlifeadvisors
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