Widowhood, or the disruption of marriage due to the death of the spouse, is a source of great emotional pain and stress. Widows (females whose spouse has died) and widowers (males whose spouse has died) may grieve and mourn their loss for years. Nearly 3 percent of men and 12 percent of women in all age groups in the United States are widowed. Among people age 75 and older, nearly 25 percent of men and 66 percent of women are widowed.

Widowhood is similar to divorce in that it signifies the end of a marriage, but widowhood differs from divorce in some important ways. Death is often an unexpected ending of a relatively happy, loving relationship, whereas divorce is usually the mutually agreed upon conclusion of a troubled relationship and the result of a long series of events. Death is also final, whereas many divorced persons maintain at least a superficial relationship with each other. Although people never really completely get over losing a loved one, most are ultimately able to cope.

How people deal with widowhood varies, especially by gender. Many men and women attempt to fill the void caused by their spouse's death by seeking out friendships or remarrying. Some people become more involved with their work or their children or grandchildren. Others volunteer for religious and charitable organizations. Still others enter counseling or find comfort within a local support group. Because they are usually socialized to be emotionally expressive, women may have an easier time dealing with the emotional issues associated with widowhood than men, but they often have a harder time financially. They also have to contend with youth‐oriented social stigmas that are tied to widowhood—the myths that widows are used up and old, making it harder for women to remarry later, if they so choose. Widowers, on the other hand, are more likely to be depressed and attempt suicide than are widows.