Transition to Widowhood and Health Care Use among the Elderly

Lei Jin, Harvard University
Nicholas Christakis, Harvard Medical School

It has been well documented that individuals are more likely to die after the deaths of their spouses. This paper examines health care use as a link between widowhood and health; it asks 1) how does the transition to widowhood affect the individuals’ health care use and the quality of care they receive? And 2) do these changes contribute to the elevated mortality hazard for the widowed? This paper utilizes a unique dataset of one million couples identified and sampled from all couples enrolled in Medicare on Jan. 1, 1993. These couples were followed for up to nine years. Their survival status was ascertained; detailed information on health care use was collected. Preliminary findings suggested that quality of care declined around the transition to widowhood. Investigating health care use around the transition to widowhood may provide insight into the timing and methods of interventions that may attenuate the harmful consequences of widowhood.

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Presented in Session 174: Husbands, Wives, Marriage, and Health