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A widow is a woman whose husband has died. A man whose wife has died is a widower. The state of having lost one's spouse to death is termed widowhood or (occasionally) viduity. The adjective is widowed.


Economic position of widows

The economic position of widows has been an important social issue in many societies. In societies in which the husband was typically the sole provider, his death could plunge his family into poverty. This was aggravated by women's longer life spans, and that men generally marry women younger than themselves. Many charities existed to help widows and orphans (often, not children without parents, but children without a contributing father) in need.

However, even in some patriarchal societies, widows could maintain economic independence. A widow could carry on her late husband's business and consequently be accorded certain rights, such as the right to enter guilds. More recently, widows of elected officials have been among the first women elected to office in many countries (e.g. Corazon Aquino).

There were implications for sexual freedom as well; although some wills contained dum casta provisions (requiring widows to remain unmarried in order to receive inheritance), in societies preventing divorce, widowhood permitted women to remarry and have a greater range of sexual experiences.

In some other cultures, widows are treated differently. For instance, in India there is often an elaborate ceremony during the funeral of a widow's husband, including smashing the bangles, removing the bindi as well as any colorful attire, and requiring the woman to wear white clothes, the colour of mourning. Earlier it was compulsory to wear all white after the husband was dead, and even Widow burning (sati or suttee) was practiced sometimes. However in modern-day culture this has gradually given way to wearing colored clothing. Sati practice has been banned in India for more than a century. The ban began under British rule of India owing to the persistence of social reformer RajaRam Mohan Roy.

In other cultures, widows are required to remarry within the family of their late husband; see widow inheritance. This started as a custom to ensure that no widow could be kicked out of her home and face a life without financial provision, but it can also be used to keep money within the family. In addition, it is an important factor in the transmission of HIV within certain communities, e.g. the Luo, and is being challenged on human rights grounds.

"Valentine of Milan Mourning her Husband, the Duke of Orléans" by Fleury-François Richard.
Statue of a mother at the Yasukuni shrine, dedicated to war widows who raised their children alone.

Cultural references to widows

  • The plot of the Disney film Up was centered around a widower determined to fufill his deceased spouse's dream and avoid house eviction by lifting his residence off the ground with balloons.



In India, widow remarriages are legal. However, widows are considered unlucky in the traditional society. Widows face challenges of child support, finance, social stigma, security and remarriage. Family of widowers however, sympathize and console him with remarriage, many a times, to an unmarried woman. Relatives of the widowers often provide support to children making it easier for him to move on. Similar is the case with divorced men seeking unmarried women from poorer backgrounds. Such practices question the law for allowing a divorced man or widower, to remarry an unmarried woman and thus making remarriage for a woman more difficult.

United Kingdom

In the 21st century there is no stigma attached to be widow or a widower and they have the same rights as single people to marry. There are also no special customs or actions that a widowed person has to follow or take part in.

See also

External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From Old English widewe (widow)





widow (plural widows)

  1. A woman whose husband has died (and has not re-married); feminine of widower.
  2. (informal, in combination) A woman whose husband is often away pursuing a sport, etc.
  3. (printing) A single line of type that ends a paragraph, carried over to the next page or column.
  4. type of venomous spider, of the genus Latrodectus

Related terms

Related terms

Derived terms



to widow

Third person singular

Simple past

Past participle

Present participle

to widow (third-person singular simple present widows, present participle widowing, simple past and past participle widowed)

  1. (transitive) To make a widow (or widower) of someone; to cause the death of one's spouse.

Simple English

Simple English Wiktionary has word meanings for:

A widow is a woman whose spouse has died. A widower is a man whose spouse has died.


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