Gender and adaptation to widowhood in later life
SourceAgeing and Society, 15, 1, (1995), pp. 37-58
Article / Letter to editor
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Ageing and Society
Examination of the well-being and living conditions of older widows and widowers reveals ways in which adaptation to loss of the partner in later life is influenced by gender. This article compares the results of two Dutch studies, one on men and one on women between the ages of 60 and 75, living independently and widowed three to five years earlier. The same combination of quantitative and qualitative methods was used in these studies. The results indicate remarkable similarities in the well-being of the widows and widowers. Gender influences the availability of resources such as income, education and freedom from health restrictions, with widowers demonstrating clear advantages compared to widows. In the area of relational resources, widows who are well adapted have more varied sources of support, including close female friends and supportive neighbours in addition to children. Widowers benefit more from the presence of new partners or partner-like relationships; the tendency of many widowers to rely strongly on children is a disadvantage. Few significant differences were found in the relational needs acknowledged by widows and widowers; however, acknowledging the need for intimacy is differentially related to life satisfaction for widowed men and women. An unexpected finding is the effect of gender on life satisfaction, which remains when other variables have been entered into the equation in regression analysis. Several possible interpretations for this gender factor are provided; these involve the possibility of greater diversity in the ways in which women adapt to widowhood, women's special virtuosity in relationships, and a kind of flexibility that is developed in the course of women's lives which helps them adapt to major change later life, despite structural disadvantages in comparison to men.
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