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Revisiting Widowhood in Later Life: Changes in Patterns and Profiles, Advances in Research and Understanding*

  • Anne Martin-Matthews (a1)


This analysis reviews the ways in which both the experience of widowhood in old age and the nature of research on widowhood have changed since the publication of the book Widowhood in Later Life in 1991. Patterns of decline in widowhood in both its duration and incidence in later life are examined. Widowhood research has advanced conceptually by moving beyond understanding widowhood solely in terms of role loss. Life course perspectives, and concepts of multiple narratives and of resilience, have also contributed to the field. New methodologies, including prospective and longitudinal designs involving larger data sets, and more in-depth qualitative studies, have advanced our understanding of complexities and variations in widowhood. These include issues of gender and ethnocultural diversity, as well as the intersection of wealth, health, and class. This article also examines how patterns of labour force affiliation, social policy, and the changing nature of marriage shape widowhood in later life.

Cette analyse examine les façons dont l’expérience du veuvage dans la vieillesse ainsi que la nature de la recherche sur le veuvage ont changé depuis la publication du livre Le Veuvage en fin de vie en 1991. Les modèles de la baisse du veuvage sont examinés, à la fois dans sa durée et de son incidence retardée dans la vie. La recherche sur le veuvage a connu des avancées conceptuelles au-delà de la compréhension de la perte de rôle. La perspective du cours de la vie, ainsi que les concepts de narratifs multiples et de résilience ont aussi contribué à ce domaine. De nouvelles méthodes, y compris des méthodologies prospectives et longitudinales portant sur de larges ensembles de données, ainsi que des études qualitatives détaillées, ont fait avancer notre compréhension de la complexité et des variances du veuvage. Celles-ci incluent des variantes telles que le genre, la diversité ethnoculturelle et la combinaison de facteurs tels que l’aisance matérielle, la santé et la classe sociale. L’article examine aussi l’influence de l’affiliation au marché du travail, de la politique sociale et de la nature changeante du mariage sur le façonnement du veuvage plus tard au cours de la vie.


Corresponding author

Correspondence and requests for offprints should be sent to / La correspondance et les demandes de tirés-à-part doivent être adressées à: Anne Martin-Matthews, Ph.D. Department of Sociology The University of British Columbia 6303 NW Marine Drive Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1 (


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The author acknowledges the assistance of Patrick Burnett and Catherine Craven of the University of British Columbia, and of Mary Chiu, University of Toronto, in the preparation of this manuscript. The SSHRC-funded research project “SEDAP: Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population” (B. Spencer, PI; SSHRC Grant #412-04-1006) supported the original collection of pilot data in a study of Chinese widows by Lynn McDonald, Carolyn Rosenthal, and me, as cited in this paper. The CIHR-funded project “Home Care in Canada: Working at the Nexus of the Public and Private Spheres” (A. Martin-Matthews, PI: CIHR Grant # IOP-70684) supported additional research assistance, especially by Catherine Craven, at UBC.



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