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There is growing evidence from Western countries that widowhood may affect cognitive health in later life. However, little is known about whether widowhood isassociated with cognitive health in Eastern Asian countries such as China and what factors may explain the association between widowhood and cognitive health. Weadd to this line of research by investigating the effect of widowhood on 2-year change in cognitive function among Chinese adults ages 55 and older from 2011 to2013, using data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study. Cognitive function was measured by episodic memory and mental intactness (i.e.,attention and time orientation). Our results showed that Chinese older adults who were continually widowed at both waves had significantly lower episodic memoryscores at Wave 2 than their continually married counterparts, controlling for episodic memory at Wave 1, age, gender, education, and other sociodemographicvariables. This suggests that the continually widowed experienced greater decline in episodic memory than the continually married over the 2-year period. Afterfurther controlling for economic resources, health, and social engagement, the difference in memory decline between the continually widowed and the continuallymarried barely changed. The effect of widowhood on memory decline was similar for men and women. However, the continually widowed were not significantlydifferent from the continually married in the decline of mental intactness. In addition, newly widowed adults were not significantly different from the continuallymarried in the change of episodic memory and mental intactness. We conclude that staying widowed for 2 years or more may be an independent risk factor forepisodic memory decline in China. More research is needed to investigate the mediating and moderating mechanisms underlying the association between widowhoodand memory decline.


This article was originally published in SSM - Population Health, available at

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial-No-Derivates (CC BY-NC-ND) license 4.0 (



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