June 23rd is International Widow’s Day, and it’s an annual day of recognition, awareness, and advocacy about the unique experiences and challenges widows of all ages face in cultures around the world.
Research about widows is limited, but the United Nations estimates there are approximately 248 million widows worldwide (as of 2016).
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of widows in the United States is a surprisingly young 59.
Widows around the world
Widowhood is treated and viewed differently in different cultures, and for millions of women around the world becoming a widow means the start of undue suffering and hardship emotionally, physically, socially, and financially.
Especially in more patriarchal cultures, becoming a widow brings an end to social, physical, emotional, political, and economic security.
When a woman’s value is contingent upon that of her husband, widowhood leaves women more vulnerable to poverty, loneliness, and isolation.
Widows in the United States
According to the 2015 World Widows Report created by the Loomba Foundation, the United States has the 3rd largest widow population, around 14 million, with 66% of widows retirement age or older, and 34% of widows are younger and currently employed.
The 2010 U.S. Census Bureau reported that nearly 1 million women are widowed every year.
Even in the United States, widows can have a difficult time finding the social, emotional, financial, legal, and community support they need.
A widow needs support services not only immediately following the loss of her husband, but also longer-term when ‘secondary losses’ like identity, employment, and health become more apparent.
What you can do to support widows
- Listen and be present not just immediately following a widow’s loss, but for the long-term. Cultivate a mindset of empathy and imagine what your life would be like if you lost your spouse. Be mindful of ways you can show compassion and support.
- Be part of her ‘team’. When grieving, widows can feel at a loss as to what to do, and who to turn to for help. Assist her in finding community, financial, and legal support in your area.
- Move at her pace. Practical help is needed, but emotional support is just as valuable. Be patient and help her move forward when she is ready; there is no ‘timeline’ for healing from the loss of a spouse.
- You don’t have to have all the answers, but you can help her find people who do.
- Check in on her regularly. Talking about loss and grief can be difficult, but it’s an essential part of the healing process. Encourage her to share her feelings and fears when she is ready.
- Volunteer for organizations and communities that provide emotional, physical, and social services to widows of all ages and stages of life.
Free webinar: ‘What Widows Need to Know about Social Security’
Widowhood has many challenges and frustrations, so it can be an unwelcome surprise to discover that claiming Social Security Survivor Benefits is very complicated. Whether you are a young widow with children or someone nearing retirement, the rules for claiming your benefits in the right order is not always easy to figure out.
Getting the facts of your situation clearly laid out and knowing how to proceed is critical for getting the most from this important source of income.
Social Security may well be your only source of guaranteed income throughout retirement.
To help widows understand more about this important topic we are hosting a free webinar on International Widow’s Day, Tuesday, June 23rd – from 7 – 8pm EDT, with special guest and Social Security maven Marcia Mantell. Click here to register for the webinar.
Helpful resources and communities for widows
As we mentioned, it can be difficult to know where and how to find helpful communities and resources for widows, so we have compiled a resource guide full of organizations, groups, websites, books, and podcasts to help you along the way. It’s free and downloadable at our website.
Another useful and free resource is our Curve Ball Life Planning™ workbook, REBUILD, which is designed specifically for widows and helps empower you to live life from a position of knowledge through goal-setting and a plan to rebuild your personal and financial life. You can download it directly from our website as well.