Methods: This study used the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) 2008 Core dataset, a nationally-representative and longitudinal study of the U.S. population aged 50 and over. The study sample included age 65 and older who provided information on all study measures, namely 10,252 older adults. Life satisfaction and self-perceived health were dependent variables. Widowhood was measured by marital status and the length of widowhood. Religion was measured by religious service attendance and religious importance. Models controlled for demographic and socioeconomic factors. Descriptive analysis, the one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), and the multiple regression analysis were performed. Variables that explain life satisfaction and self-perceived health were entered in three steps: widowhood, demographic and socioeconomic, and religion variables.
Results: The ANOVA indicated that, as expected, widowed respondents than married respondents had lower life satisfaction, F(2, 10249) = 132.20, p < .001, and lower self-perceived health, F(2, 10249) = 49.99, p < .001. Respondents recently widowed had lower life satisfaction than the widowed elderly of more than two years. The regression models indicated that widowed respondents had lower life satisfaction than married ones (β = -.196, p < .001), and respondents recently widowed had lower life satisfaction than respondents who stayed longer in widowhood (β = -.046, p < .001). Respondents who attended more religious services had higher life satisfaction and higher self-perceived health. Interaction effects showed that the effects of religious service attendance on life satisfaction and self-perceived health were larger among widowed respondents than among married ones. Caucasian respondents with higher levels of education had higher life satisfaction and higher self-perceived health. Implications: The significant interaction effects between widowhood and religion suggest that the widowed elderly can more effectively improve their life satisfaction and self-perceived health through religious service attendance than married older adults although their overall life satisfaction and self-perceived health are lower than married ones. This also implies that geriatric care and church-based social services need to focus more on widowed older adults.