Open Access Research article

Assessing survival in widowers, and controls -A nationwide, six- to nine-year follow-up

Bragi Skulason1235*, Lilja Sigrun Jonsdottir4, Valgerdur Sigurdardottir5 and Asgeir R Helgason36

Author Affiliations

1 University of Iceland, Saemundargata, Reykjavik IS101, Iceland

2 National University Hospital, Eiriksgata 29, Reykjavik IS101, Iceland

3 Reykjavík University, Menntavegur 1, Reykjavik IS101, Iceland

4 Directorate of Health, Austurstrond 5, Seltjarnarnes IS170, Iceland

5 National University Hospital, Palliative Care Unit, Kopavogur IS200, Iceland

6 Department of Public Health Sciences, Social Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm SE17177, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:96  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-96

Published: 2 February 2012



The aim of this study was to assess if widowers had an increased mortality rate during the first 6 to 9 years after the death of their wife, compared initially to an age-matched control group and also compared to the general population of Iceland.


The study base was comprised of all 371 men born in 1924-1969 who were widowed in Iceland in 1999-2001 and 357 controls, married men, who were matched by age and residence.

The widowers and controls were followed through the years 2002-2007 using information from Statistics Iceland. Mortality rates were compared between the groups and also with the general population. The mortality rate comparisons were: study group vs. control group, on the one hand, and study group vs. general population on the other. Causes of death were also compared between widowers and their wives.


A statistically significant increase in mortality in the widowers' group, compared to controls, was observed.

Lifestyle-related factors could not be excluded as contributing to cause of death in these cases.


Being a widower was related to an increased risk of death for at least 9 years after the death of their wife.