Early Personality Traits as Predictors of Mortality Risk Following Conjugal Bereavement


  • This project was funded by a grant from NIH-NIA (AG08825, H.S. Friedman, PI). This paper is part of our larger, multiyear, interdisciplinary project and includes updates (e.g., additional death certificate information) to our previous work. Previous work from this project is cited where appropriate, and overlapping findings should be noted when conducting meta-analyses or other reviews. Changes in Ns from paper to paper reflect differing time periods, exclusionary variables, and data updates as noted above. The authors would like to thank Dr. Jessica Dennis, Dr. Chandra Reynolds, Dr. Miriam Schustack, and Margaret Kern for helpful comments made during the preparation of this manuscript. The current investigators bear full responsibility for all data refinements, analyses, and interpretations presented here.

concerning this paper should be addressed to Howard S. Friedman, Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521. E-mail: howard.friedman@ucr.edu.


ABSTRACT This study explored pre-bereavement personality traits and gender as predictors of post-widowhood mortality risk, using newly derived life span data for participants originally recruited for Lewis Terman's classic study of the gifted. Personality traits measured in 1940 were used to predict mortality risk from 1940 through 2004 for married participants who were either widowed between 1940 and 1986 or who remained married. Results indicated that widowhood predicted a decrease in mortality risk for these (intelligent) individuals (relative hazard [rh]=0.68, N=843, p<.001) and neuroticism significantly moderated this effect. Specifically, neuroticism in young adulthood was significantly associated with decreased mortality risk among men who were later widowed (rh=0.50, N=66, p<.02) but not among women or consistently married men. Conclusions reveal the importance of personality–situation interactions and the adoption of a long-term perspective.