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Death of a Spouse Leads to Poverty for 1 in 5

According to new research from the UK, one in five people who lose their partner will fall below the official poverty line in that country.

The largest change in income affected those whose spouse was working at the time of death.

Women with or without children were more at risk of financial decline than men and two in five women pensioners were in poverty immediately after bereavement.

“The recent fall in the value of annuities, savings and investments means an even wider group of older people could face financial difficulties when their partner dies,” noted lead researcher Anne Corden, of the Social Policy Research Unit, University of York, “whether these difficulties are short-lived or longer-lasting.”

For some people who dipped below the poverty level, the experience was short-lived. However, bereaved women were more likely to experience poverty lasting up to three years after the death.

The number of women feeling financially worse off doubled from 24 percent to 48 percent. Comparable figures for men were 19 and 30 percent respectively.

Based on its exploration of a wide range of economic, administrative, emotional, and psychological issues following the death of a partner, the study highlights the need for:

Better awareness of financial issues

  • Findings highlighted the financial consequences of the failure to make a will and the mistaken belief that ‘common law marriage’ provides legal rights.
  • “Many people still put off thinking about their will or their finances until they are older and by then, for some, it is too late,” Corden points out.
  • The study highlights the importance of financial awareness within the general population.
  • The need to make financial preparations and decisions as a couple during earlier stages of their life together.

Easing adjustment to loss

  • Grief has economic elements which impact on the grieving process and adjustment to loss. Managing money, and taking on new economic roles was hard for some bereaved people.
  • The study suggests that raising financial awareness should include planning and preparation for death.
  • Government, employers and unions have opportunities to provide information at various key points during a person’s life.

Reducing administrative and regulatory burdens

  • Researchers found that the administrative requirements related to financial transitions caused a considerable practical and emotional burden.
  • Most people had to deal with diverse administrative and regulatory bodies. The volume of work required, delays, errors and problems in communication were widely experienced as an overwhelming burden.
  • Researchers highlight the need of processes to help people find information they need more quickly, staff with skills for dealing with people in grief, and data sharing to reduce documentation required, would increase business efficiency as well as trust and compliance among service users.

Counseling support for ‘economic components’ of grief

  • Supporting bereaved people who want to share feelings about their financial situation and new economic roles may ease adjustment to their loss.
  • Findings suggest that while it is not the role of bereavement counseling services to provide expertise in all the administrative and financial aspects of bereavement, they would benefit from greater awareness of the emotional impact of changed financial circumstances on the bereaved person.

Financial support for the bereaved

  • Immediate financial demands facing bereaved people included paying for the funeral and housing costs including changes in home ownership and tenancy.
  • After a death, information and advice about benefits, pensions and tax, as well as support in accessing financial services help people avoid financial hardship.
  • Researchers suggest that when policymakers review financial support for bereaved people, there should be thorough examination of entitlement, take-up and impact of bereavement benefits and social fund funeral expenses payments, and people’s perceptions of these payments.

Researchers concluded that some financial difficulties following death of a partner can be prevented; others can be avoided.

They also suggested that policymaking must address the immediate circumstances of people experiencing bereavement.

In the long term, enabling people to sustain paid employment throughout their working lives, occupational and private pensions, will help ensure an acceptable standard of living in retirement and protect people whose partner has died from financial hardship and economic decline.

Source: University of York

Death of a Spouse Leads to Poverty for 1 in 5

Psych Central News Editor

APA Reference
News Editor, P. (2018). Death of a Spouse Leads to Poverty for 1 in 5. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 27, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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