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Sex differences in depression after widowhood. Do men suffer more?

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



This study focuses on sex differences in depression of the widowed. Previous research showed different results in sex differences and in depression after bereavement. We assessed the effects of widowhood on depressive symptoms for men and women and examined whether environmental strain like social support, finances and housekeeping concerns explain these effects.


Data were used from a large community-based study of older people in three regions of the Netherlands. Our study sample consists of 2626 widowed and married subjects in the age group of 55-85 years. Depression was measured using the CES-D scale; the various strains were obtained by structured interviews. Multiple linear regression, performed for men and women separately, were used.


The results show that widowhood is associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms and that this association is stronger for men than for women. The effect of widowhood is mediated by different types of environmental strain for men and women. However, a strong direct main effect of widowhood on depression remains. The difference in depression rates between men and women is most evident among those widowed for a longer period of time.


It appears that, over time, women adapt to widowhood more successfully than men. From a clinical point of view this is important, as it suggests that men who remain alone after losing their partner are at a higher risk of developing symptoms of chronic depression.

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