Older widow(er)s: bereavement and gender effects on lifestyle and participation

Project lead: Dr Kate Bennett

Research team

  • Dr Kate Bennett

  • Professor Philip Smith

  • Dr Janette Davies


May 2000 - July 2002


Dr Kate Bennett
Department of Psychology
University of Liverpool
Eleanor Rathbone Building
Bedford Street South
Liverpool L69 7ZA

Tel: +44 151 794 1410
Email: kmb@liv.ac.uk


Widowhood is for many people a central aspect of growing older. More than a third of people aged 65 years and over are widowed and 60 per cent of those aged 75 and over. Widowhood and bereavement can profoundly affect quality of life. In some cases this leads to premature mortality, in others to a reduction in quality of life, and in yet others to improvements in quality of life. Whilst the study of late life widowhood is of interest to academics and to the widowed people themselves, it is also of interest to health and welfare professionals and to policy makers.

The study aims to examine both bereavement and widowhood, paying particular attention to issues of gender, social participation, lifestyle and emotional functioning. Few studies to date have been qualitative, and even fewer have combined quantitative with qualitative approaches. This study addresses the need for this joint approach.

Aims and objectives

To aim of the study is to examine the lifestyles of women and men widowed in late life, highlighting gender, social participation, wellbeing and emotional response, with a view to promoting more effective adjustment to bereavement and widowhood.

  • To identify and investigate the variations in lifestyle and gender amongst widowed people.

  • To examine emotional adjustment following bereavement.

  • To identify patterns of response that lead to successful or unsuccessful adjustment to bereavement and widowhood.

  • To propose strategies both for prevention of and intervention in unsuccessful adaptation to bereavement and widowhood.

Study design

The study aims to interview a broad sample of widowed people. There will be 80 participants, 40 women and 40 men, aged 65 and over. It is intended that the participants will have been widowed for a variety of time-spans. A semi-structured interview is used. Broadly the questions will concern various life stages before and after bereavement, so the data will be both retrospective and concurrent. In addition, emotional and cognitive aspects are measured using questionnaires.

Policy implications

The last two of the objectives of this research are particularly relevant to policy and practice. It is intended that the results of these will have a longer term impact on the lives of widowed people through interventions and health/welfare policy. A better understanding of social, cognitive and emotional changes in bereavement and widowhood will be gained.