Widowhood

To a great extent, widowhood in the United States is a status of older women. There are sizable numbers of widowers and young widows, but in 1995, nearly two-thirds of all widowed persons in this country were women aged 65 and over. As shown in Figure 13-6, the number of widows increased dramatically after middle age but fell abruptly after age 75. Despite the decline in the number of widows caused by deaths after the eighth decade of life, the percentage of widows continues to increase in the eighth decade of life. The age-related pattern in the number and percentages of widowers is similar to that of widows, but both measures are substantially lower. In 1995, only 13.5% of men aged 65 and over, compared with 47.3% of women in that age group, were widowed (Saluter, 1996).

The number of widowed persons varies not only with gender and chronological age, but also with race, Hispanic origin, metropolitan residence, geographical region, and other demographic variables. Reflective of the younger status of the Hispanic population of this country is the fact that, compared with the percentages of widowed persons in the non-Hispanic white (6.9%) and black (7.1%) populations in 1995, only 3.9% of Hispanics were widowed (see Figure 13-7). In addition, black women tend to become widows at an

Age (Years)

Figure 13-6 Number and percent of widowed persons in the United States aged 15 years and over, March1995, by chronological age. (Based on data from Saluter, 1996.)

Age (Years)

Figure 13-6 Number and percent of widowed persons in the United States aged 15 years and over, March1995, by chronological age. (Based on data from Saluter, 1996.)

White Male i

White Female

Black Male'

Black Female s

Hispanic Male-

Hispanic Female ■

10 8 6 4 2 0 2 4 68 10 12 Number in Millions Percent of Race/Sex Group

Figure 13-7 Number and percent of widowed persons in the United States aged 15 years and over, March 1995, by sex and race/ethnicity. (Based on data from Saluter, 1996.)

earlier age than whites or Hispanics, and nonwhite Hispanic widows tend to be slightly younger than white widows.

The fact that the percentage of widowed persons living in metropolitan areas of the United States (6.3%) was slightly less than the percentage of widows in the country as a whole (6.6%) in 1995 is probably caused by the larger percentage of Hispanics and other younger age groups of people who live in metropolitan than in nonmetropolitan areas. The age distribution of the population is also reflected in the percentages of widowed persons in the four major sections of the United States: Northeast (7.3%), Midwest (6.7%), South (6.7%), and West (5.6%) (Saluter, 1996). In general, residents of states in the Northeast tend to be older, and those in the West tend to be younger than residents of states in other parts of the country. The differences in age distributions of the populations of those states affect the percentages of widowed persons residing in them.

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