I remember asking my 70-something grandmother why she had never remarried, some two decades after my grandfather died in his (and her) 50s. She responded in her accented English: "Vat, and become a slave to anozer man?"
You'd think most women would be thrilled to learn men are closing the longevity‑or perhaps the deathgap. I seem to recall when I got married, the gap stood in the range of seven years. With a husband six years older, I calculated I had a statistical expectation of 13 years of widowhood. I did not relish the prospect. Well, now the news is that the gap is closing. The New York Times reports that the gap has narrowed to just more than five years.
And the National Center for Health Statistics figures it's going to keep narrowing: "The difference in life expectancy at birth between male and female has decreased an average one tenth of a year every year since 1980. The difference between male and female life expectancy was 5.2 years in 2004, the smallest such difference since 1946."
I'd expect women, particularly older women, would be thrilled. Many are. But many others are less thrilled than one might imagine. Why? Because their caretaking roles actually increase when their husbands age. With children grown and husbands gone, widowhood may actually launch the first phase of true freedom in a woman's life, particularly if that woman married young and went straight from her parent's house to her connubial abode.
Social scientists have long posited that widows are more independent and fare better psychologically than widowers. This from the University of Florida website: "What sociologists do understand about widowhood is that men are more likely to be socially isolated, less frequently in touch with children or church activities. . . Women, we know, are much better at making friends and keeping friends."