An astonishing number of men under the age of 65 experience the death of a life partner in Scotland every year. Many of these are fathers and some still have dependent children. Rebecca Phipps, a research student at the University of Glasgow, explains why she is seeking participants for a study looking at how men cope with this type of bereavement.

In the 2011 Scottish census, over 14,500 men under the age of 65 were reported to have experienced the death of their marital or civil partner. We don’t know how many more outside marriage or civil partnerships lost their partners. Nor do we know how many men experiencing this type of bereavement have dependent children. This is a considerable gap in our knowledge given that bereavement is a highly stressful life-event that demands considerable readjustment for surviving parents and their children.

At the University of Glasgow we are conducting a research study to capture lived experiences of fathers whose cohabiting partner died between six months and five years ago. The study aims to provide contemporary insight into men’s grief in the context of daily life; to capture its impact on identity and observe how this may influence coping approaches. The purpose of this research is to better understand men’s experiences to learn more about how fathers can be better supported.

We know that people who experience the death of a partner are at increased risk of adverse health outcomes and are more likely to die when compared to non-bereaved peers. Men below the age of 70 have been identified as a particularly vulnerable bereaved group, for whom relative risk of dying in accidental or in violent circumstances is particularly high. Gender differences in health outcomes following stressful life events have been attributed to differences in men’s and women’s coping approaches.

There has been significant research into the impact of parental bereavement on children but this does not tell us much about the experience of a surviving parent. It is estimated that one third of parentally bereaved children will need formal support from a bereavement support service. Some evidence suggests there may be gender differences in parenting style among partner bereaved groups and men may need more encouragement to engage with their children in bereavement related support tasks. Across bereavement literature it is widely expressed that men are less likely to seek support from formal services following bereavement but very little research has been conducted into the topic. We know that in addition to grieving for their own personal loss, the death of a partner often leads to the surviving parent feeling under increased pressure to maintain the family’s wellbeing.

Understandably, children sometimes respond to parental bereavement with a change in behaviour and research has found that many parents will experience a loss of confidence in their parenting ability.

There is an urgent need for contemporary research into men’s bereavement to capture the experiences of families today; many of whom may not be married and may have children from previous relationships. Few studies have looked at how ‘being a man’ might influence bereavement experiences and those that have, predominantly focus on older men without dependent age children. Of the studies that have focused on men with child rearing responsibilities, these mostly re-use non-contemporary datasets and may overlook shifts in gender roles. The majority of these studies focus on marital partner bereavement and largely exclude unmarried and same-sex partner bereaved men.

We are encouraging anyone who feels they can contribute to this study to find out more. For details on how to take part visit 

The study is being conducted by Rebecca Phipps a research student at MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow and is funded by the Medical Research Council and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office. The project is supervised by Dr Shona Hilton, Dr Kirstin Mitchell and Dr Amy Nimegeer. This study has been approved by the University of Glasgow, College of Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee. Views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the MRC and CSO. (Funding: MC_UU_12017/15, SPHSU15 MC_UU_12017/11, SPHSU11, Award ref. 1802757)

Rebecca Phipps is a PhD student, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow.

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