Florida State University

College of Social Sciences & Public Policy

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Study: Military Widows May Have Stronger Support

Sociology Ph.D. candidate Brittany King

A newly published study by sociology Ph.D. student Brittany King, along with sociology faculty Dawn Carr and Miles Taylor, suggests that older widows of military veterans are less likely to say they are lonely and more likely to report strong social support.

The researchers analyzed survey data from more than 400 women; about two-thirds of them were widows of men who had served in the U.S. military at some point in their lives..

“Increased loneliness is a common consequence of widowhood in later life, however, individuals with high levels of perceived social support from friends tend to cope more effectively following major social losses like widowhood,” reads the abstract of the report, published January 3, 2020, in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B. “Military service is associated with cultivation of strong social support structures. This effect may not only influence those who serve, but also their spouses.”

The researchers used data from the national Health and Retirement Study, a survey of U.S. adults over age 50 between 2004 and 2016, to examine changes in loneliness following widowhood among wives of veterans and non-veterans. They examined the responses of 428 widowed women, ages 61 to 90. Among these, 284 had been married to military veterans and 144 had not. Most of the women were non-Hispanic white and had been married for up to 66 years.

Wives of veterans and non-veterans alike reported similar levels of perceived social support while their husbands were still alive, but while non-military widows tended to report less social support than their military counterparts.

“Our findings suggest wives of veterans may have more resilient social support structures than non-veteran spouses, helping them cope at widowhood,” the study’s authors wrote. “Future research should explore whether these effects persist in association with other major stressful events in later life.”

In a previous study, King, Carr and Taylor found that men who lack resilience are exponentially more vulnerable to becoming severely depressed after their spouse dies.