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01 Mar 2005

Financial Consequences of Widowhood in Europe

Cross-Country and Gender Differences

Namkee Ahn

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European Network of Economic Policy Research Institutes (ENEPRI) Working Paper No. 32, 20 pages

This paper documents the financial consequences of widowhood using both cross-section and panel data from the European Community Household Panel. The research reveals that there are large differences across countries. For example, widowed persons in Greece and Portugal have the lowest income – less than a half that of those widowed in Austria. Cross-country differences decrease somewhat if we consider household income net of housing costs, owing to the higher share of home ownership in low-income countries. Further, the income reduction upon widowhood is generally larger for widows than it is for widowers. The difference in income between the genders is largest in Denmark, Spain, Austria and Finland, where widowers enjoy an income that is more than 30% higher that of widows. The main culprit of the differences in income between widows and widowers lies in pension regulations. As today’s elderly women and those approaching old age spent their working years in an era where women worked at home, raised children and did not participate in the labour market, many depend mostly on survivorship pensions as their main source of income. Yet in most countries this kind of pension tends to be much lower than the applicable old-age pension, owing to the prevailing pension laws. Consequently, the financial situation of widows is unlikely to improve in the medium term unless pension regulations change.