Social dimensions of personal growth following widowhood: A three-wave study

TitleSocial dimensions of personal growth following widowhood: A three-wave study
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsRecksiedler, C, Loter, K, Klaas, H, Hollstein, B, Perrig-Chiello, P
Date Published12/2017
ISSN0304-324X, 1423-0003
KeywordsEmotional support, older adults, Personal growth, social support, Social support seeking, widowhood

BACKGROUND: Losing one's spouse is one of the most stressful life events in old age, yet research on positive consequences of overcoming critical life events describes experiences of personal growth for survivors. OBJECTIVE: Because prior studies conceptualized personal growth as a stable accomplishment of an individual, our study challenges this assumption by examining trajectories of personal growth and its links to two aspects of social support. We assume that personal growth is boosted by heightened levels of loss-related social support seeking during early years of widowhood. However, toward the later stages in the bereavement process, we expect personal growth to be fostered by perceived social embeddedness. DATA AND METHOD: Data stem from a survey on relationships in later life conducted in 2012, 2014, and 2016 in Switzerland. The final analytical sample consisted of 508 individuals aged 50+ years, who were on average 73 years old and widowed for about 3 years at baseline. Longitudinal explorative factor analyses yielded a 3-factorial solution for personal growth. Random-effects group-specific growth curves were used to examine the trajectories of personal growth and its subdimensions, by different levels of loss-related social support seeking and embeddedness in a supportive network, over the first 8 years of widowhood. Our analyses included time-invariant and time-varying covariates. RESULTS: On average, our findings point to a stable trajectory of personal growth after having become widowed in later life. Group-specific analyses, however, showed different courses in the trajectories for specific subdimensions of personal growth - particularly for spiritual change and appreciation of life. Average marginal effects also yielded group differences by loss-related support seeking in the level of personal growth over time, which highlight the importance of social support seeking, rather than social embeddedness, at all stages of the bereavement process. CONCLUSION: Findings underline the importance of a longitudinal and linked-lives perspective on personal growth and point to different pathways regarding its various subdimensions. Future research should further examine the validity of personal growth scales for other populations and consider the possibility to experience personal growth already during the anticipation of a traumatic event (e.g., in the case of long-term caretaking).

PubMed ID29402839