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Abstract

The Economic Consequences of Widowhood
by Robert J. Willis and David Weir
IB 2002-023
We analyzed the economic consequences of a husband’s death using events that occurred between the first two waves of the HRS and AHEAD studies. We compared poverty transitions against published results from Social Security’s Retirement History Survey of the 1970s. Widowhood remains an important risk factor for transition into poverty, although somewhat less so than twenty years ago. Women over age 65 (AHEAD) are less likely to experience severe economic changes than women under age 61 (HRS). Several factors account for the age differences: the declining importance of husband’s earnings with age, the rising importance of Social Security benefits, and the occasionally large out-of-pocket medical expenses associated with husband’s death before Medicare eligibility. The greater economic impact of widowhood at younger ages is consistent with our cross-section evidence that poverty rates rise with duration of widowhood but are only weakly associated with age.
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