Women hit harder financially and practically after losing a partner
The research found that 51% of bereaved women reported lower household income, compared to 35% of men. It also found that 45% of bereaved women reported lower disposable income, compared to only 24% of men.
The financial impact of bereavement leads to a wide variety of responses, with women again more likely to report having to take action. Some 44% of women reported having to cut back in discretionary spending such as holidays, compared to 35% of men. Women were also more likely to draw on savings or take out a loan, and more likely to spend less of household bills (including utilities) and less on everyday items.
The research found one of the more extreme financial impacts following the loss of a partner was having to downsize or move house. While just one in ten of men downsize or move house, two in five women are forced to move home following a bereavement.
The practical impacts are a consequence of the tendency of couples to split household tasks between them, often along gendered lines. The Royal London research found evidence of this, revealing that bereaved men were overwhelmingly likely to say that their partner took charge of cooking, cleaning and washing and ironing before they died, whereas bereaved women said that their partner had taken charge of car maintenance, dealing with tradespeople, DIY, driving and dealing with technology. The sudden loss of this expertise leaves the surviving partner scrambling to deal with these practical matters for the first time, while also coping with the emotional loss.
Overall, 21% of women surveyed said they had needed to make five of more financial changes, compared to only 11% of men. Some 22% of men made no financial changes after bereavement, compared with 16% of women.
The research found that, for both sexes, the financial impacts last longer than expected, with 26% of people reporting lower disposable income in the first year after bereavement, rising to 42% one to three years after. Even three to five years after losing a spouse of partner, 36% of people still report lower disposable income.
Although losing a partner affects everyone, those reporting the least impact were those with the most plans in place. Those with specific plans in place, including life insurance, funeral plans and lasting power of attorney, were least likely to report reduced disposable income, lower savings or increased debt.
The research and report are supported by the Dying Matters Coalition. Claire Henry, Chief Executive of Dying Matters, said: “Losing someone we love is always horrible, but while we rightly focus on the emotional impact it is too easy to lose sight of the financial and practical impacts. This report shows how the financial impacts fall heavier on women, and last longer than people may expect.
“It also demonstrates the importance of making effective plans well before they are needed. Planning a funeral, making a will, arranging insurance and lasting power of attorney are good not just for our own piece of mind, but also help make things easier for those we leave behind.”
Simon Cox of Royal London commented: "The research shows a clear bereavement gender divide, with women faring the worst. While we can’t prepare for every eventuality, and as difficult as it may be to talk about dying, having plans in place will help loved ones left behind be more financially secure and manage the everyday chores and tasks.”
Debbie Kerslake, Chief Executive of Cruse Bereavement Care, added: “When one of a couple dies, it's not just their physical absence and the emotional pain of the loss that is so hard to bear, it is also coping with the practical and financial impact at a time of such vulnerability. This report highlights the benefits of couples planning ahead and taking action. As well as addressing financial affairs this also includes thinking about how practical tasks are shared out. Anything that can help mitigate just some of the pain is to be welcomed.”