Demographic change among the widowed population in Sweden 1970-2019
There is evidence that the mortality disadvantage of widows and widowers relative to married men and women has been increasing over the last decades. At the same time, a rising life expectancy and heavy size fluctuations between birth cohorts have been reshaping the demographic characteristics of the widowed population, which may have implications for how to interpret the excess mortality of the widowed. This study uses Swedish register data to compare trends in the excess mortality of widows and widowers in younger and older age groups during the years 1970-2019, and link the trends to the demographic changes that occurred in the population in the same period. The results show that the excess mortality increased in all age groups during the period, with the strongest increase occurring in younger ages and among women. At the same time, the widowed population became significantly older, and the contribution from the groups aged 75 or younger to the overall excess mortality of the widowed declined. Further, the results show that widowhood overall became slightly less common among the old during the period, that the relative number of men entering widowhood rose and that the proportion who remarried after widowhood remained negligible throughout the period. The transition to widowhood also began to occur increasingly late in life while the average duration of widowhood before dying or remarrying fell, especially for women. The findings of the study suggest that while increasing selection into widowhood contributed to the rising excess mortality, other mechanisms were at work as well. Other potential explanations include an increasing overlap between widowhood and periods of sickness and disabilities, and a decline in access to formal care and assistance.