Family and Suicide: Gender Differences in the Effect of Children on Elevated Suicide Rates Following Spousal Loss

Patrick Lusyne, Ghent University
Hilary Page, Ghent University

Several studies have shown excess mortality among the recently widowed, especially widowers, even after control for available variables related to partners' shared environment. The hypothesis usually advanced is that elevated stress following bereavement increases health risks. Having children may provide protection. For both hypotheses, however, empirical evidence is limited. To tease out possible effects of stress, we examine not only excess mortality among the recently widowed for mortality in general but also for a mortality type particularly susceptible to stress, namely suicide. Using national longitudinal data for the entire population of Belgium we examine differentials by sex, age, parity and age of youngest child. Although few clear patterns emerge for mortality in general, having young children provides some protection from excess suicide-mortality for widows but not for widowers (except immediately after bereavement), while having adult children has little effect for older widows and actually increases excess suicide-mortality among older widowers.

Presented in Poster Session 1: Aging, Life Course, Health, Mortality, and Health Care