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Mortality following conjugal bereavement, Belgium 1991-96: The unexpected effect of education

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This paper examines excess mortality following spousal bereavement by time since bereavement, sex, age, and education. The main hypothesis challenged is that higher education buffers the harmful effects of spousal loss. Using a log-rate model, death-rate ratios (widowed/married) are estimated for 49,849 and 126,746 Belgian widowers and widows and an equal number of non-bereaved controls matched to the bereaved on their socio-demographic characteristics. The hypothesis that the more educated suffer less excess mortality is not supported. Although higher educational levels are associated with lower mortality in general, they do not alleviate the effects of bereavement. On the contrary, in the period immediately following spousal loss, the more highly educated seem to have more, rather than less, excess mortality. Three possible arguments are suggested to account for this: education-related differences in the partner-relationship, structural differences in the availability of appropriate social support, and cultural differences in potential support networks.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2001

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