Men are at higher risk of experiencing poorer adjustment to widowhood compared to women, a transition that is associated with increased loneliness. Military service may play an important role in how men process widowhood, particularly among current cohorts of older men. The present study explores whether military experiences relate to better adjustment to widowhood, that is, reduction of loneliness associated with widowhood for men. We examine (a) whether military experience, especially exposure to death, shapes changes in loneliness following widowhood relative to those without military experience, and (b) if any observed benefits of military experience are explained by greater social engagement.
Research Design and Methods:
We use the Health and Retirement Study and linked Veterans Mail Survey to address respondents while they are continuously married (T1) and at widowhood four years later (T2) using Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression. To address our hypotheses, we examine whether military experience without exposure to death, and/or military experience with exposure to death moderates the overall negative effect of widowhood for loneliness relative to civilians.
There is a significantly lower level of loneliness among veterans with exposure to death relative to civilians who become widowed; however, veterans without exposure to death remain similar to civilian widowers. Social engagement does not explain the benefits associated with military exposures for widowers.
Discussion and Implications:
Although exposure to death early in life is traumatic, our research suggests that such adversity within the specific context of the military may help enhance resilience during the transition to widowhood