The financial consequences of the death of a Partner

Project: Research project (funded)Research

Project Details


This study by the Social Policy Research Unit explores the financial consequences of the death of a life partner. Bereaved people face particular risk of poverty and problem debt. Financial pressures and economic uncertainties may adversely affect people’s responses to bereavement. Much is known about the impact of bereavement on health and well-being but little attention has been paid to financial outcomes.

The study combines quantitative and qualitative methods:

•A statistical element uses data from the British Household Panel Survey on 500 couples where one partner dies. Analysis will identify changes in financial circumstances following bereavement and those at risk of financial strain.
•A qualitative element involves interviews with 50 people at different stages of life whose partner has died. Analysis will explore what shapes financial outcomes after bereavement and the salience of financial and economic circumstances in the experience of loss of a life partner.
Findings will inform debate about institutional arrangements that affect the financial consequences of bereavement. As well as providing evidence for policy on pensions, benefits, and related tax, housing and legal matters, the research is important for the development of bereavement support and financial advice services, and the work of primary health, social services and palliative care practitioners.

Layman's description

When a person's life partner dies there are often many changes in financial and economic arrangements for the bereaved member of the couple. Much research has explored the psychological impact of death of a partner, but little is known about the financial implications, especially for people bereaved under pension age. This study investigated the financial and economic transitions of people whose partner died and explored their views and feelings about these experiences.

Key findings

* Death of a partner is mainly the experience of older women. One in five women bereaved under pension age, and one in ten men, have dependent children.

* Decline in income following the death was greatest among people under pension age, due largely to loss of partners’ earnings or their own withdrawal from paid work.

* Among people bereaved over pension age, women’s incomes generally dropped but men’s increased, reflecting gender differences in pension entitlements.

* Older women faced increased risk of persistent or recurrent poverty for two or three years after the death.

* State bereavement benefits protected some people who had been married, but lack of understanding of their availability and purpose was widespread.

* Administrative requirements related to financial transitions following the death caused considerable practical and emotional burden.

* Immediate financial demands facing bereaved people included paying for the funeral, dealing with debt, and housing costs including changes in home ownership and tenancy.

* Managing the money, adjusting household spending and taking on new economic roles was hard for some people.

* Perceptions of adverse change in financial circumstances following a partner’s death were related to increased psychological distress among women, for up to two years after the death.

Effective start/end date1/06/0630/06/08