Monday, July 22, 2013

Gender Breakdown of Widows

Here is a quick post with an interesting result I get from playing around with mortality data.

These results are based on a Gompertz distribution function using parameters that Moshe Milevsky determined are optimistic/reasonable. They probably apply better to my readers than to the overall population, who will likely live longer than average on account of higher education, income, and an interest in retirement planning.  

As a purely technical note, here are the parameters:

mm=88.18;dm=10.5; % Milevsky (2006) reasonable assumptions
mf=92.63; df=8.78;

Now to the interesting results.

Consider a 65-year old couple with one male and one female (I point out the gender, because since males and females have different life expectancies, the results will be different for same-sex couples). The calculations are made assuming each spouse's lifespan is independent of the other, i.e. that one does not die from a broken heart, etc.

This table shows, by age, the probability that both spouses are still alive, the probability that neither is alive, and the probability that only one of the two spouses is still alive. These three columns add up to 100%.  Then I further provided the gender breakdown among those couples in which only one member is still alive. In other words, the percentage of widows which are male and the percentage which are female.

For instance, at age 85, with 36.6% of couples, both are still alive. For another 14.6% of couples, both have passed away. Strikingly, for 48.8% of the couples (almost half), one member carries on as a widow. Among these widows, 34.3% are male and 65.7% are female. What is striking is that across the age range, there is consistency that about a 1/3 of widows are male and 2/3 are female. If one spouse tends to take care of the family finances, it is certainly clear that a game plan must be in place to ensure that financial matters remain secure for the surviving spouse in the event of widowhood.