* The average age of widowhood in the United States is 55 years.

* A third of women who become widowed are younger than age 60, and half of all women who will become widowed become so by age 65.

* From the 2000 U.S. Census: Nearly half of the women in the United States – ages 65 years and older – are widowed.

* Nearly 700,000 women lose their husbands each year and will be widows for an average of 14 years.”-U.S. Bureau of the Census (1999).

* According to the 2010 U.S. Census there are 11 million widows in the U.S.

* One study reported that 75% of widows indicate a loss of contact with friends and some relatives.

* In a 2010 U.N. study, at least 245 million women around the world have been widowed and more than 115 million of them live in devastating poverty.

* The death of a spouse is considered the #1 stressor on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale (see scale below). If a person scores 300 or more, the person is likely to encounter a physical illness. Since the death of a spouse may result in numerous changes, a new widow could easily reach 300 points. One website reports that 60% of new widows experience a serious illness within the first year of widowhood.

* Mathew Greenwald & Associates’ Survey of Recent Widows raises red flags that all couples over 50 should know and deal with before it’s too late for them.

That’s particularly true if the husband handles most of the household’s investments and financial planning.

What the Survey Discovered

The survey, conducted for the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) and funded by the American Council of Life Insurers, interviewed 246 women age 70 and younger who became widowed within the past five years and had financial assets of $50,000 to $1 million. Among its findings:

  • 61% of the widows whose husbands were responsible for financial planning had difficulty filing income taxes.
  • Half of the widows lost at least 50% of their income when their husbands died.
  • 45% of widows with $50,000 to $99,999 in savings and investments did not have an emergency fund prior to their husband’s death. Roughly a third (29%) of all widows surveyed lacked emergency funds.
  • 37% had difficulty determining what they were entitled to receive from Social Security and initiating Social Security benefits after their husbands died.
  • 26% had difficulty locating bank accounts and investments and obtaining access after their husbands died.
  • And 26% of the widows whose husbands were responsible for financial planning had to move to less expensive housing as a result of their spouse’s death.

Information from Forbes Magazine – November 2013

From the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale

Life event Life change units
Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Beginning or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Major Holiday 12
Minor violation of law 11