Widowhood and Depression in a Cross-National Perspective: Evidence from the Unted States, Europe, Korea, and China


We explore marital and depression trajectories over time for men and women, and distinguish between mood and somatic depression across contexts.


We use longitudinal data from 2002 to 2013 from the United States, England, Europe, Korea, and China to explore depression among individuals married at baseline and follow their trajectories into widowhood with married as the reference group. We use random effects models to estimate these trajectories using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) or EURO-D scales for men and women.


Depression peaks within the first year of widowhood for men and women, but women recover to levels comparable to married counterparts in all countries. Men sustain high levels of depression even 6-10 years post-widowhood everywhere except Europe. Widowed women have higher somatic depression compared to men, who have higher mood depression. Family plays differential roles in mediating depression across countries.


Our research shows the complex global relationship between widowhood and depression. Studies that do not compare depression trajectories over time may make incorrect inferences about the persistence of depression by gender and country. Interventions should target different components of depression: mood-related symptoms for men and somatic-related symptoms for women for most effective recovery.