Psychological and Physical Health in Widowhood: Does Marital Quality Make a Difference?

Hyo Jung Lee, Sae Hwang Han, Kathrin Boerner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


We investigate how preloss marital quality is associated with changes in psychological distress and physical health among older widow(er)s. Using prospective data with a 2-year follow-up from the Health and Retirement Study, we selected 546 respondents who transitioned into widowhood. Respondents were classified as supportive, ambivalent, aversive, or neutral groups. The supportive and ambivalent group experienced greater increase in depressive symptoms compared to the aversive group, in widowhood. The aversive group showed greater increase in chronic conditions compared to the supportive group. Findings indicated that spousal loss may result in more psychological distress for those with supportive and ambivalent marital relationship. Yet, those with mostly negative accounts of their marriage may experience worsened physical health, albeit no increase in psychological distress. Understanding different benefits and challenges facing older individuals after a positive or negative marriage may help direct support and interventions efforts toward older couples during marriage and in widowhood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-64
Number of pages11
JournalResearch on Aging
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Jan

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This research was supported by grant, P30AG066614, awarded to the Center on Aging and Population Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin by the National Institute on Aging, and by grant, P2CHD042849, awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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