The Things You Would Do to Buy Winter Shoes. How Older Widows Manage Their Finances?

Sylwia Timoszuk, Warsaw School of Economics

The aim of the paper is to expand our knowledge on what financial problems older widows experience and how they try to overcome them. To gain a more comprehensive view I adopted quantitative and qualitative approaches.

For the quantitative analyses, the first wave of the Polish Generations and Gender Survey was used. The regression models allowed for verifying whether widowhood impedes women’s financial situation. Different measures of material deprivation helped to illustrate how big their financial problems are. Next, I analyze what areas of expenditures are problematic for widows.

In order to deepen the statistical findings, I conducted 25 in-depth interviews in two different Polish voivodeships with widows aged 65-79. The sample was heterogenous in respect to interviewee’s financial situation—the interviews were conducted with widows in (very) good as well as in (very) difficult material situation. The data gives unique insights into nature of women’s financial problems and their ways of dealing with them. Special attention was paid to actions undertaken by interviewed women when they face financial difficulties.

Results from statistical analyses indicate that widows are ceteris paribus in worse financial situation than married women. As for types of financial difficulties, widows most frequently reported buying new furniture, paying for a week-holiday and acquiring new clothes.

The first analyses of qualitative data showed that older widows emphasize a necessity to adapt expenditures to their financial means—the interviewees were saying that their budget is “what it is” and that they simply must operate within its constraints. The women were cutting the expenditures or adjusting needs to their financial capability. In some cases they even intentionally tried to ignore their needs. However, the problem arose when there was a need to buy more expensive product, which was difficult to ignore, like a necessity of buying winter shoes.


Introduction

Previous research on the financial situation of older women suggest that widowhood is linked with lower financial wellbeing and higher poverty risk (Li 2004, Bernard and Li 2006, Corden, Hirst et al. 2008, Zaidi 2010, Bíró 2013, DiGiacomo, Davidson et al. 2013).

There are several possible explanations of this relationship. Firstly, older women have on average low pensions—the consequence of their work history and the way pension systems are constructed (Kotowska, Stachura et al. 2008, Zaidi 2010). Secondly, marriage often increases financial wellbeing of older women as it gives access to additional financial resources both directly and indirectly (Corden, Hirst et al. 2008, Bíró 2013). Finally, widows are on average older than married women. Since older age is generally related to worse health (Robine and Cambois 2013, Salive 2013), widowed women are exposed to higher health-related spending.

The main contribution of the paper is to provide information on what kind of financial problems older widows experience and how they try to solve them. I seek answers to the following questions: Do older widows experience more financial problems than older married women? Which expenditures are the most challenging for them? What actions do older widows undertake when they face financial difficulties?

Method

I combine qualitative and quantitative approaches.

For the quantitative analyses, the first wave of the Polish Generations and Gender Survey was used. The analytic sample consisted of 16464 widows and 1596 married. The regression models allowed for verifying whether widowhood impedes women’s financial situation. I used the question of material deprivation which concerned household’s ability to cover expenses within six areas e.g., keeping home adequately warm or affording one-week holiday. Measures of different levels of material deprivation helped to illustrate how big older widows’ financial problems are. Next, I analyzed what areas of expenditures are most problematic for the respondents.

The qualitative part deepened the statistical findings. Twenty five in-depth interviews with widows aged 65-79 were conducted between May and July 2017. I interviewed women from big and medium cities, from two different Polish voivodeships. The sample was heterogenous in respect to interviewee’s financial situation—the interviews were conducted with widows in (very) good and in (very) difficult material situation. The data gives unique insights into nature of women’s financial problems and their ways of dealing with them. Special attention was paid to actions undertaken by interviewed women when they face financial difficulties. The interviews provide information on what are the methods—and, more broadly, strategies—of expense management used by older widows.

Expected findings

Results from statistical analyses indicate that widows are ceteris paribus in worse financial situation than married women. As for types of financial difficulties, widows most frequently reported buying new furniture, paying for a week-holiday and acquiring new clothes.

The first analyses of qualitative data showed that older widows emphasize a necessity to adapt expenditures to their financial means—the interviewees were saying that their budget is “what it is” and that they simply must operate within its constraints. The women were cutting the expenditures or adjusting needs to their financial capability. In some cases they even intentionally tried to ignore their needs. However, the problem arose when there was a necessity to buy more expensive product, which was difficult to ignore, like the need of buying winter shoes. If they were able to do so, the women were preparing themselves to cover such an expense for weeks or even months before the would have face it.

Acknowledgments

This research has been funded by the National Science Centre (Poland), decision number: 2016/21/N/HS4/02846.

References

Bernard, A. and C. Li (2006). "Death of a Spouse The Impact on Income for senior men and women." Analysis in Brief, Catalougue no. 11-621-MIE – No. 46, Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario: 1-13.

Bíró, A. (2013). "Adverse effects of widowhood in Europe." Advances in Life Course Research 18: 68-82.

Corden, A., M. Hirst and K. Nice (2008). "Financial Implications of Death of a Partner." Working Paper No. ESRC 2288 12.08, December 2008, Social Policy Research Unit, University of York.

DiGiacomo, M., P. M. Davidson, J. Byles and M. T. Nolan (2013). "An Integrative and Socio-Cultural Perspective of Health, Wealth, and Adjustment in Widowhood." Health Care for Women International 34: 1067-1083.

Kotowska, I. E., J. Stachura and P. Strzelecki (2008). Equality of Retirement Benefits Received By Men and Women in Selected European Countries. ENEPRI Research Reports: 154-159.

Li, C. (2004). Widowhood: Consequences on Income for Senior Women, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Statistics Canada.

Robine, J.-M. and E. Cambois (2013). "Healthy life expectancy in Europe." Population & Societies 499: 1-4.

Salive, M. E. (2013). "Multimorbidity in older adults." Epidemiologic Review 35: 75-83.

Zaidi, A. (2010). Poverty Risks for Older People in EU Countries – An Update. Policy Brief January (II), Vienna: European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research.

Presented in Session 1235: Posters