Refining Estimates of Marital Status Differences in Mortality at Older Ages
The main objective of this analysis is to demonstrate that some of the limitations that have characterized recent studies of the relationship between marital status and health outcomes may result in biased estimates of marital status differences in mortality among the elderly. A secondary goal is to evaluate the strength of evidence in support of the excess risks of mortality associated with widowhood, once we are able to eliminate or mitigate many of the limitations experienced by other studies. Our results, based on the 1984-1990 Longitudinal Study of Aging, demonstrate that the estimated marital status effects in logit and hazard models of survival are very sensitive to whether and how marital status information is updated after the baseline interview. Refined measures of marital status that capture prospectively transitions from the married to the widowhood state result in substantially increased estimates of the relative risk of dying in the early durations of widowhood (bereavement).