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Changes in life satisfaction when losing one's spouse: individual differences in anticipation, reaction, adaptation and longevity in the German Socio-economic Panel Study (SOEP)

  • FRANK J. INFURNA (a1), MAJA WIEST (a2), DENIS GERSTORF (a3) (a4) (a5), NILAM RAM (a4) (a5) (a6), JÜRGEN SCHUPP (a4) (a7), GERT G. WAGNER (a4) (a6) (a8) and JUTTA HECKHAUSEN (a9)...

Losing a spouse is among the most devastating events that may occur in people's lives. We use longitudinal data from 1,224 participants in the German Socio-economic Panel Study (SOEP) to examine (a) how life satisfaction changes with the experience of spousal loss; (b) whether socio-demographic factors and social and health resources moderate spousal loss-related changes in life satisfaction; and (c) whether extent of anticipation, reaction and adaptation to spousal loss are associated with mortality. Results reveal that life satisfaction shows anticipatory declines about two and a half years prior to (anticipation), steep declines in the months surrounding (reaction) and lower levels after spousal loss (adaptation). Older age was associated with steeper anticipatory declines, but less steep reactive declines. Additionally, younger age, better health, social participation and poorer partner health were associated with better adaptation. Higher pre-loss life satisfaction, less steep reactive declines and better adaptation were associated with longevity. The discussion focuses on the utility of examining the interrelatedness among anticipation, reaction and adaptation to further our understanding of change in life satisfaction in the context of major life events.

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      Changes in life satisfaction when losing one's spouse: individual differences in anticipation, reaction, adaptation and longevity in the German Socio-economic Panel Study (SOEP)
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Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Frank J. Infurna, Arizona State University, Department of Psychology, 950 S. McAllister Ave., Tempe, AZ 85287, USA E-mail:
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