The effect of widowhood on older adults' social participation: An evaluation of activity, disengagement, and continuity theories

Rebecca L. Utz, Deborah Carr, Randolph Nesse, Camille B. Wortman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

184 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study evaluated how levels of social participation change as a result of late-life widowhood. Social participation is a multidimensional construct incorporating both formal (e.g., meeting attendance, religious participation, and volunteer obligations) and informal (e.g., telephone contact and social interactions with friends) social roles. Design and Methods: Using data from the Changing Lives of Older Couples study, analyses compared widowed persons to continuously married control participants to evaluate whether widowhood affects older adults' levels of social participation. Results: Widowed persons had higher levels of informal social participation than nonwidowed persons, whereas formal social participation levels were comparable between the two groups. Social participation levels decrease before the death of a spouse, primarily because of poor spousal health, and increase following the loss, because of increased support from friends and relatives. Implications: Maintaining continuity in the realm of social participation is a strategy older adults use to cope with spousal loss; however, not all widowed persons have the same resources to alter their levels of social participation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)522-533
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2002
Externally publishedYes



  • Formal and informal social roles
  • Social integration
  • Social support
  • Spousal bereavement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology

Cite this