Women become healthier and less stressed after the death of their husbands.
Researchers from the University of Padua in northern Italy found that while men who lose their spouse tend to experience a decline in health the opposite is true of women. Their study tracked almost 2,000 people aged over 65 for four years.
Widowers were one and a half times more likely to be frail than married men. By contrast, widows were 23 per cent less likely to be considered frail than married women. There was also “a lower incidence of unintentional weight loss or low daily physical activity levels” among unmarried women.
Lead researcher Dr Caterina Trevisan suggested that one explanation for these results could be life expectancy. As they generally live longer than men, married women “often devote themselves to caring for their husband in later life”, she explained. This could cause wives to “suffer from the effects of caregiver burden”.
Many studies have indicated that married men live longer than their single peers, which could be the result of their wives’ care, Dr Trevisan claimed. However this can have a negative effect on women who are “more likely to feel stressed and find their role restrictive and frustrating”.
When one spouse dies there is a noticeable difference in the effects on each gender. “Widows cope better than widowers with the stress deriving from the loss of a partner and widowhood” she said, adding that men are more likely to experience depression after a bereavement than women. This could be because women “have greater coping resources and are better able to express their emotions”, Dr Trevisan speculated.