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What is a widow husband called?

When a married woman’s spouse dies, she is referred to as a widow. But what is the term used to describe a married man whose wife has died? There are a few different words that can be used to refer to a widowed husband.


The most common and accepted term for a man whose wife has died is “widower.” This is the male equivalent of the term “widow.” Just as widow refers specifically to a woman whose husband has died, widower refers specifically to a man whose wife has died.

For example:

  • John is a widower after losing his wife to cancer last year.
  • Many widowers find it hard to move on and start dating again after the death of their spouse.

The term widower is very frequently used in the English language and is widely understood to mean a man whose wife has passed away. It is the proper and respectful way to describe a man in this situation.

Surviving Husband

“Surviving husband” is another term that may be used to describe a man whose wife has died. This phrase focuses on the fact that the man is still living after the death of his wife. For example:

  • As her surviving husband, Mark was devastated after Lucy’s death.
  • The support group is for men who are surviving husbands.

“Surviving husband” emphasizes that the man is continuing to live his life after the wife’s passing. Some people prefer this term because it has a connotation of strength and perseverance after loss.


More generally, a man whose wife has died could simply be referred to as a “widowed spouse.” For example:

  • Spouses who have lost their partners can find help at this grief counseling center.
  • They offer special weekend retreats for widowed spouses to help them through the healing process.

This phrases the man’s relationship status in a gender neutral way. “Spouse” could refer to either a husband or wife. So “widowed spouse” clearly gets across the meaning that the person’s partner has died, without needing to specify wife or husband.


In summary, there are a few different terms that can be appropriately used to refer to a man whose wife has passed away:

  • Widower – The most common and accepted gender-specific term.
  • Surviving husband – Emphasizes he is still living after his wife’s death.
  • Widowed spouse – A gender-neutral, respectful way to describe the situation.

The most widely used and understood term is “widower.” But other phrases like “surviving husband” or “widowed spouse” may be preferred in some contexts or situations. The important thing is to be respectful and sensitive when referring to a man who has lost his wife.

When did these terms originate?

The terms “widow” and “widower” have been in use in the English language for centuries, dating back to at least the 12th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “widow” comes from the Old English word “widewe” which referred to a woman who had lost her husband. The male counterpart “widower” was derived from “widow” and came into use by the 14th century. So these gender-specific terms for a person whose spouse has died have very long histories in English.

The phrase “surviving husband” came into use more recently, as it emphasizes the continuation of life after a spouse’s death. It seems to have originated in the 19th century, as attitudes began to shift towards more openly discussing grief and bereavement. Other gender-neutral phrases like “widowed spouse” also arose in the 20th century as language began to adapt to changing cultural views about gender and marriage.

So while “widower” has centuries of history behind it, some modern phrases like “surviving husband” aim to put a new perspective on the same sad life event. But they all fill an important linguistic need to compassionately describe those who have lost a husband or wife.

What religions/cultures use different terms?

Most cultures and religions have their own terminology to describe a surviving spouse after death, whether gender-specific like “widow/widower” or neutral like “surviving spouse.” Here are some examples:

  • Hinduism – A Hindu widow is called a “vidhava”, while a surviving Hindu husband is called a “vidhur.”
  • Judaism – A Jewish widow is an “almanah”, while a widower is a “alman.”
  • Islam – The Arabic term “armla” refers to a Muslim widow, and “armal” refers to a Muslim widower.
  • Buddhism – In Buddhism, neutral terms like “punarbhava-snehi” (one who loves again) or “pativratya-vidhava/vidhu” (one who lost their spouse) are often preferred.
  • China – The Chinese terms are more metaphorical, like “xiaofu” (little blessing woman) for a widow and “xiaohu” (little blessing man) for a widower.

So while many cultures have two different terms depending on the surviving spouse’s gender, some religions place more emphasis on respectful, gender-neutral phrases after a death. But most societies have developed some vocabulary to refer to this mourning period compassionately.

What are some respectful ways to refer to a widowed spouse?

When speaking about a man or woman whose spouse has passed away, it is important to be respectful and sensitive. Here are some recommendations for respectfully talking about a surviving husband or wife:

  • Use the term “late wife/husband” or “deceased wife/husband” when referring to their spouse who died.
  • Say that the person “lost their spouse” rather than saying they “lost their wife/husband.”
  • Talk about the person as becoming a widow/widower only if they self-identify that way.
  • Avoid phrases like “no longer married” – instead say they are navigating life after marriage.
  • Don’t refer to the person as single or unmarried – they may still feel married emotionally.
  • Allow the person to talk about their grieving process on their own terms.

Being sensitive to the individual’s preferences is important. Offer your condolences for their loss, but allow them to decide if widow/widower fits for their situation. With empathy and compassion, you can have respectful conversations about a major life transition like spousal loss.

How common is spousal loss? Statistics in the U.S.

Losing a spouse is a painful life event that unfortunately affects millions of married couples. Here are some statistics on spousal loss and widow(er)hood in the United States:

  • As of 2022, there are about 14.6 million widowed individuals in the U.S., accounting for 5% of the total population.
  • 78% of widowed persons are female, while 22% are male.
  • The average age at which women are widowed is about 59 years old. For men, it is about 55 years old.
  • Among all marriages that end, about 48% end through spousal death rather than divorce.
  • About 10% of women aged 65+ and 6% of same-aged men are widowed in the United States.

So spousal loss affects millions of older Americans especially. Support systems for both widows and widowers are so important for helping them through grief and transition to their new life status.

How do widowers and widows cope with grief?

Losing a beloved spouse is one of the most difficult experiences in life. Both widows and widowers have to navigate profound grief while also dealing with new practical realities as a sole individual. Some common ways they cope include:

  • Talking about their emotions – Seeking support groups or grief counseling to process sadness.
  • Memorializing their spouse – Creating memorials, writing obituaries, looking at old photos.
  • Developing new routines – Slowly creating daily routines like cooking, errands, and hobbies.
  • Helping others in similar situations – Volunteering, mentoring, or joining support communities.
  • Embracing resilience – Finding strength by revisiting old interests or trying new experiences.

There is no single “right way” to cope with spousal loss. Creating hope for the future while still treasuring the past helps many transition to a new phase of life after losing their wife or husband.

What are common challenges faced by widowers?

Men who have lost their wives face deep grief and many life adjustments. Some particular challenges widowers often face include:

  • Learning new domestic skills their wife may have handled
  • Expressing vulnerable emotions in a society that expects male strength
  • Having less robust social circles or having friends withdraw
  • Feeling intense loneliness, especially at night
  • Having to take on financial/legal matters they may be unfamiliar with
  • Feeling pressure to “move on” from grief quickly

Juggling practical needs while processing intense grief can be very difficult for widowers. Patience, help from others, and joining support groups can ease this major life transition.

What financial help is available for widows/widowers?

The loss of a spouse often creates financial challenges. Some of the key financial help available for surviving spouses includes:

  • Social Security Survivor Benefits – Monthly income based on deceased spouse’s earnings
  • Veteran Death Pensions – Monthly payment for low-income widows/widowers of veterans
  • Final Expenses Assistance – Programs to help cover burial costs
  • Mortgage and Debt Help – Organizations that negotiate debt relief for grieving spouses
  • Tax Help – Ability to file joint returns for 2 years; keeping home’s tax credit
  • Company Life Insurance – Policies and retirement accounts from spouse’s employer

Additionally, there are charities and nonprofits dedicated to supporting widows and widowers financially through grief counseling, legal help, housing assistance, and other services.


Losing a spouse is incredibly difficult emotionally and practically. The terms “widow” and “widower” compassionately recognize a major life transition. Creating new routines, embracing community, and accepting help with finances/legal issues can all make the grieving process gentler. With time and support, widowers and widows regain resilience and purpose as they carry on their late spouse’s legacy.