Adjusting to Loss: Widows’ Time, Time Stress and Happiness

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IZA Research Seminar

Place: Zoom Seminar

Date: 13.10.2020, 13:30 - 14:45


Presentation by 

Daniel S. Hamermesh (University of Texas at Austin)

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Meeting ID: 874 8721 3161



By age 77 a plurality of women in wealthy Western societies are widows. Comparing older (ages 70+) married women to widows in the American Time Use Survey 2003-18 and linking the data to the Current Population Survey allow inferring the short- and longer-term effects of an arguably exogenous shock— husband’s death—and measuring the paths of adjustment to it. Widows differ from otherwise similar married women, and especially from married women with working husbands, by cutting back on home production, especially food preparation and housework, mostly by engaging in less of it each day, not doing it less frequently. British, French, Italian, German and Dutch widows behave similarly. Widows are alone during most of the time they had spent with their spouses, with only a small increase in time with friends and relatives (except shortly after becoming widowed). They feel less time stress than married women but are less satisfied with their lives, with the shortfall stemming entirely from the extra time spent alone. Following older women in 18 European countries before and after a partner’s death shows the exact same changes in their feelings of time pressure and life satisfaction. Most of the adjustment of time use in response to widowhood occurs within one year of the husband’s death; but reduced life satisfaction and feelings of depression persist much longer.
*Daniel S. Hamermesh: Barnard College, IZA and NBER; Michał Myck: Centre for Economic Analysis - CenEA
and IZA; Monika Oczkowska, Centre for Economic Analysis, CenEA. We thank the University of Minnesota
Population Center IPUMS for the ATUS-X extracts, the Centre Maurice Halbwachs for the French data, the Centre
for Time Use Research for the U.K. and Dutch data, ISTAT for the Italian data and the IZA for the German data.
The SHARE data are from Börsch-Supan (2020), funded by the European Commission and various national funding
sources (see Appendix C for the complete SHARE acknowledgement). Michał Myck and Monika Oczkowska
acknowledge support from the Polish National Science Centre (grant number: 2018/29/B/HS4/00559). We thank
Katie Genadek, Jonathan Gershuny, Frances Hamermesh (fortunately now in a minority), Shelly Lundberg, Hilmar
Schneider, and especially Melanie Lührmann for useful comments, as well as participants in seminars at several
universities and institutes. Len Goff provided very helpful research assistance.

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