Becoming widowed is associated with an increased risk of early mortality. Drawing on theoretical literature related to social support and health, the present study evaluated whether the quantity of close relationships might differentially moderate the relationship between marital status (widowed versus married) and mortality risk 10 years later.
Data were obtained from the National Social Life Health and Aging Project. A diverse group of older adults (n = 2347) were interviewed three times for 10 years. Information on close friends/family, marital status, and mortality was gathered. Logistic regression and moderation analyses were used to test whether the quantity of close relationships conditioned the risk of death for married and widowed adults 10 years later.
The quantity of close relationships moderated the association between marital status and mortality risk (B = −0.35, SE = 0.11, p = .002). Compared with their married counterparts, widowed older adults who had fewer than four to six close relationships had an increased risk of death 10 years later (B = −0.35, SE = 0.09, p < .001); similarly, among people who reported few close relationships, widowed adults had an increased risk of death compared with their married counterparts (B = 0.54, SE = 0.15, p < .001). These findings remained significant after accounting for demographics, health behaviors/chronic health conditions, and psychological distress. This effect is comparable to the increased mortality risk associated with smoking cigarettes.
Having fewer than four to six close relationships is associated with an increased mortality risk for widowed older adults.