Financial consequences of the death of a partner

Michael Hirst, Anne Corden, Katharine Nice and Julie Williams, University of York

[Project number 30093]

LS data from 1971 to 2001 inclusive will be used to identify trends and changes in the household circumstances and social contexts of couples where one partner dies. Longer life expectancy (and narrowing gender gap), increased participation of women in the workforce, expansion of home ownership, marital disruption and repartnering, changes in family formation, ageing of immigrant groups, and widening inequalities in income and wealth are reshaping the circumstances of bereavement for people whose partner dies. Bereaved partners would be analysed by age, gender and other personal and household characteristics before and after bereavement.

The ESRC study is investigating the financial and economic consequences of the death of a partner among people in all age groups. Bereaved people face risk of poverty and problem debt. Financial pressures and economic uncertainties may adversely affect people's responses to bereavement. Much is known about the impact of bereavement on health and well-being but little attention has been paid to financial outcomes.

The study combines quantitative and qualitative methods:

  • A statistical element uses data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) on 750 couples where one partner dies. Analysis will investigate changes in financial circumstances, economic well-being and living arrangements following bereavement, and identify those at risk of financial difficulties.
  • A qualitative element involves depth interviews with 50 people at different stages of life whose partner has died, including couples where one partner is receiving palliative care and death is not unexpected. Analysis will explore what shapes financial outcomes after bereavement and the salience of financial and economic circumstances in the experience of loss of a partner.

Findings will inform debate about institutional arrangements affecting the financial consequences of bereavement. As well as providing evidence for policy on pensions, benefits, and related tax, housing and legal matters, including partners' rights, the research is important for developing bereavement support and financial advice services, and the work of health, social services and palliative care practitioners.

Analysis of the LS will complement and inform the main study by:

  • Identifying trends and changes in the broad contextual factors underlying partners' experiences of bereavement and its financial and economic consequences.
  • Providing a baseline against which to anticipate and monitor future changes in the household circumstances and social contexts of partner bereavement.
  • Describing a large, population-based sample of bereaved partners to evaluate the representativeness of the BHPS sample.

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