Most widows are unprepared for the financial difficulties resulting from the loss a spouse, according to new research.

New York Life discloses this finding in a survey examining the repercussions of the loss of a spouse on 897 widows and widowers who were within 10 years of their loss. The survey explores how the loss impacts daily life both financially and emotionally, focusing on how the surviving spouse’s financial security may have changed. The survey also details the impact that life insurance has on respondents’ lives.

The survey observes that 68 percent of widows reported “significant life changes” — including “years of undue hardship” following the death of their spouse. The result is a much heightened focus on financial concerns.

“The news is unsettling: women are not prepared for the loss of a spouse and the problems are financial and much more,” says Chris Blunt, co-president of the Insurance and Agency Group, New York Life. 

Forty percent of widows polled reported negative lifestyle changes the year following the loss, compared to 24 percent of widowers.  The financial impact was even greater: two-thirds of widows experienced a significant financial change compared to half of widowers. 

The top five life changes following the loss were financial in nature, with a greater percentage of widows impacted in these financial areas of their lives:

Life Changes Following Loss of A Spouse

Widows

Widowers

Adjusting to a change in income level

55%

34%

Budgeting for one income

46%

32%

Cutting discretionary spending

38%

24%

No longer being able to afford a vacation

22%

13%

No longer adequately saving for retirement

21%

10%

For some widows, the lifestyle changes were more dire: two in five widows whose spouses did not have life insurance at the time of the loss (39 percent) reported they were “just making ends meet” or struggling to meet basic needs within the first year of the loss. 

Most women reported feeling secure about their financial situation before the loss. After the loss, nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) reported they didn’t have enough life insurance in place to feel financially secure.  Approximately half of women (47 percent) said that they wished they had some or more life insurance to help cushion the financial impact of their loss. 

Among those whose spouse had life insurance at the time of the loss, the life insurance proceeds lasted almost two and a half years. But they preferred these funds would have lasted more than 11 years longer, or 14 years.

The infographic on the following page recaps key findings from the New York Life survey.