The surprising results of the study carried out by researchers at the University of Padua and National Research Council Institute, and published in the Journal of Women's Health this month, found that widows suffered less stress and frailty than wives whose husbands are still alive.
The study analyzed 1,887 men and women, over the age of 65, living in the Veneto region over a period of four years.
Dr Caterina Trevisan, who led the research, told The Local that one of the reasons why older widows are less stressed is because they no longer have a husband to look after, and there is less pressure on household chores.
“Not only this,” she added.
“They are better at coping with the stress deriving from the loss of a partner, overcoming symptoms of depression and getting on with things. They also tend to have good social networks and support from family and friends.”
Men's health, meanwhile, declines when they lose their wives, because they are more far more reliant on their spouse, the study found.
Widowers also tend to have weaker social networks compared to widows, and so are more isolated, which can bring about depression, Trevisan added.
But while the presence of a wife brings material benefits for men in terms of household management and healthcare, “women are more likely to feel stressed and find their role restrictive and frustrating”.
“Since women generally have a longer lifespan than men, married women may also suffer from the effects of caregiver burden, since they often devote themselves to caring for their husband in later life,” Trevisan said
“We also need to consider the social structure in which our sample was living as adults (mid-20th century), in which housekeeping, and food shopping and preparation were almost always done by women.”
Unmarried men and women were also assessed as part of the study, with single women found to suffer less anxiety than single men. They also had greater job satisfaction and a lower risk of social isolation.