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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The long-term effects of the loss of a spouse or an adult child in later life Nordan, Nancy


Of all the losses experienced in life, researchers have suggested that the two most disruptive and stressful are the death of a child and the death of a spouse. Drawing on the data from the national survey, American's Changing Lives: Wave 1, 1986, this study examines the long-term adjustment for older men and women two to fifteen years after the death of a spouse or an adult child. Bereaved spouses, bereaved parents and non-bereaved older adults were compared on multiple aspects of personal functioning by using Weiss's (1988) theoretical framework of effective functioning in everyday life (i.e., self-efficacy and perceived health), psychological comfort (i.e., depression), gratification (i.e., life satisfaction) and hopefulness for the future (i.e., fatalism, vulnerability and ability to plan). Two-factor (Bereavement X Gender) ANOVAs covarying age, race, income, education and number of children revealed fewer differences between the groups than expected; however, the bereaved adults were less likely to plan for the future and widowed adults reported higher self-efficacy and lower life satisfaction than non-bereaved adults. A main effect of gender for self-efficacy, depression, fatalism and vulnerability was found, with women reporting lower levels of personal functioning than men regardless of bereavement status. Also, these analyses demonstrated the importance of sociodemographic characteristics of age, race, education, and income on personal functioning in later life. A more exploratory analyses across the bereaved adults separately was conducted by using Three-factor (Bereavement X Gender X Time since Loss) ANOVAs covarying age, race, education and expectedness of loss. These results suggested that duration of bereavement may be a predictor of long-term personal adjustment. Widowed women bereaved for 6 to 15 years reported greater life satisfaction than those bereaved for 2 to 5 years, and bereaved adults of 6 to 15 years reported higher levels of completing plans and greater overall adjustment than those bereaved for 2 to 5 years. The discussion focuses on the overall patterns and the possible explanations for the similarities across the two losses, the pervasive role of gender and the strong and consistent influence of education on long-term adjustment in later life. The benefits of including both positive and negative indicators of personal functioning are also discussed. Future research should include appropriate comparisons groups, be longitudinal in nature and multidimensional in scope.

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