Till Death Do Us Part: Transactions between Losing One’s Spouse and the Big Five Personality Traits

SOEPpapers 1063, 48 S.

Eva Asselmann, Jule Specht


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Objective: Although losing one’s spouse is one of the worst experiences that can occur in life, it has not been resolved yet how this experience relates to personality development. Method: In the German Socio-Economic Panel study (SOEP), information on the death of a spouse was assessed yearly from 1985 to 2017 and personality was measured repeatedly in 2005, 2009, 2013, and 2017 with the BFI-S. We used multilevel analyses to simultaneously model whether personality differed between individuals who did or did not lose their spouse and whether personality changed prior to and after this experience. Results: Compared to controls without the event, individuals who lost their spouse at a later point of time were more conscientious (â=0.21) and more extraverted (â=0.17). They became gradually more extraverted in the three years prior to the event (â=0.25), but were less extraverted thereafter (â=-0.27). Moreover, they gradually increased in emotional stability in the three years after this experience (â=0.30). These changes were primarily driven by women and middle-aged individuals. Men whose spouse died were less open in the first year after the event (â=-0.47). Conclusions: Losing one’s spouse relates to changes in extraversion and emotional stability, especially in women and middle-aged adults.

Keywords: Big Five; personality trait change; spousal bereavement; grief; widowhood