Minority widows are at a particularly high risk of poverty in late life, according to a report published in the latest issue of The Gerontologist (Vol. 47, No. 2). While the data reveal a substantial financial widowhood penalty among all ethnic groups, minority women often have lower incomes and fewer assets to begin with.
Authors Jacqueline Angel, Maren Jimnez, and Ronald Angel of the University of Texas at Austin sought to discover the economic consequences of losing a spouse as women approach retirement. They drew from a sample of over 4,500 hundred women between ages 51 and older. The study looked specifically at Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic White women.
The findings show that although non-Hispanic white women had more initial wealth than their Black or Hispanic counterparts, widowhood resulted in a greater relative loss in total assets for the minorities. Black women who became widowed suffered a loss that was five times greater and Hispanic women a loss that was four times greater than non-Hispanic white women.
Women who have not had careers or worked in jobs in which they were able to vest a pension are almost totally dependent on their husband's income and limited community assets. Even if their absolute drop in income is less than that of more affluent non-Hispanic White women, minority widows can end up far worse financially if they have few assets to liquidate or borrow against.