African Journal of Educational Studies (AJES), 1(2).Available at www.sist-
A well adjusted family/marriage is the dream of every couple and it is one in
which each spouse is a course of emotional and economic support, companionship, sexual
gratifcation and physical protection for the other. This paper is a product of an
investigation into the adjustment strategies of Nigerian widows as they strive to overcome
the stress inherent in our society’s widowhood practice. 865 widows were purposefully
sampled from the three main ethnic groups in Nigeria i.e. Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. The
samples were administered with self-developed instruments namely: Stress Rating Scale
for Widows (SRSW) and Widows’ Adjustment Strategies Questionnaire (WASQ). The result
of the investigation revealed that fve broad categories of adjustment strategies were
acknowledged by Nigerian widows. Majority of Nigerian widows (218 = 59.9%) reported
experiencing stress at medium level; 258 (29.85%) and 89 (10.35) confrmed experiencing
stress at low and high levels respectively. It was discovered that Nigerian widows difer
signifcantly in their stress level and adjustment strategies on the bases of selected
personality variables. It was recommended among other things that relatives, society,
government and counselor should mount intervention strategies like abolition of injurious
widowhood practices, legislation against oppressive mourning and widowhood rites and
establishment of National commission for widow’s afair. It was also recommended in the
paper that rehabilitation counselling should be provided by counselors. This should
include re-orienting the widows’ cognition about their state of being and its attendant
stress. The rehabilitation counselling advocated should focus at restoring total personality
well being of the widows and maximization of their potentials for optimal integration into
the larger society.
Marriage exists as a socially recognized, durable, though not necessarily life-long
relationship between the individual and woman. The marital adjustment of couples
could be afected by death. According to Oniye (2000), death, especially that of a very
close person, is often seen as an ultimate loss, which, invariably is accompanied by
grief. The death of a spouse and its consequences are not the same for males and
females. Typically, the widow faces a lot of problem after the death of her husband
(Wiebe, 1987). The problems faced by the widows include the fact that recent socio-
economic change and family system have aggravated the widow’s loneliness. In the
words of Olusakin (1998), widows are not well treated by the Nigerian society compared
to widowers.
The widow from the above is bound to experience various dimensions of stress,
which invariably constitutes stress level in her life from then on. For example, lack of
necessary emotional support and fnancial assistance at an age when her earning power
is gradually on the decline is a source of stress for the widow, thus Abdulsalam (1995)’s
exclamation that how do widows cope with life in a society which is ordinarily cruel to
the weaker “sex” is justifed. Abdulsalam noted that after the burial of her husband the
typical widow has to decide how to go through the mandatory mourning practices and
widowhood rites and making a choice between getting remarried or allowing herself to
be inherited by a member of the husbands family.
People have been noted to develop coping strategies after asking themselves
certain questions viz; “what type of action do I need for this circumstance, and what
resource do I have? Lazarus and Folkman (1984). The development of useful adjustment
strategies has been found to be dependent on certain factors like the age of the widow,
her religious background or inclination, social-economic status and level of educational
entrainment among others. Adjustment strategies have been described as an
individual’s coping strategies, behaviours, which are consciously used by an individual
(e.g. widow) to handle or control the efects of anticipated or experienced stressful
situations. It has also been established that there is signifcant relationship between
bereaved people (widow’s especially) participation in Bereavement Support Groups
(BSGS) and their subsequent adjustment to bereavement. In Nigeria, we have
associations with widow’s adjustment as their main or part of their focus and they
include Widowed Groups of Nigeria (WGN), Widow Organization International (WOI),
Federation of Muslim Women of Nigeria (FOMWAN) and National Council of Women
Societies (NCWS). According to Lieberman and Sherman (1989), positive change
occurred only among widows who have participated actively in the programmes of self-
help groups.
Identifcation with others is another adjustment strategy often used by widows.
Abolarin (1997) noted that this strategy is crucial because a widow without proper
adjustment is not only having problem, but could be a problem to herself, her family,
and her local government. However, Schneider, Sledge, Shuster and Zisook (1996),
opined that there is greater expression of psychological well being reported by widowers
and widows, who are either remarried or involved in new romantic relationship,
compared to widowers or widows who did not get involved in either of the two. Reliance
on children is another adjustment strategy, especially by widows with grown up
children. Cooney (1989), observed that co-residence with own of-spring is the most
likely adjustment strategy for recent widows in mid-life and an options only considered
by recent divorcees in their later life.
Research fndings have shown that a number of factors combined in one way or
the other to infuence the use and beneft derivable form various adjustment strategies.
These factors include income, attitude toward present living situation, perceived health
status and presence of a confdant (Oniye, 2000, Tate, 1981). In the views of Stroebe
and Stroebe (1987), factors likely to infuence a widow’s adjustment to bereavement
stress include age of the widow, her religious inclination and socio-economic status. It
has thus been suggested that positive afect in widows is related among others to such
factors as widow’s religious involvement, number of siblings and support from children
and their families.
A widow from the perceptive of her plight is a person who by certain
circumstances is in distress. Thus she is one who fnds herself in the middle of the
ocean of life, struggling to survive (Nwachukwu, 1993). However, in the opinion of Oniye
(2000), a widow is a woman who survives her husband and has not remarried. In her
own view, Abolarin (1977) saw widowhood as the state of mourning the loss of one’s
husband or wife through death. The period of widowhood is believed to represent a life
phase which depicts one of the fundamental problems or losses which the aged and by
extension, the young people also experience (Porcino, 1985). The stress of this
phenomenon is as real as those of loneliness and divorce. Widowhood is thus seen as a
life event with wide range of consequences.
Widowhood has been discovered to aid manifestation of depression of post
traumatic stress. In a study of depression and post traumatic stress disorder in South-
East Asia, Knoll, Habenicht, Mackenzie, Yang, Chan, Vang, Nguyen, Ly, Phommasouvah
and Nguyen (1989), found that more than forty percent of those with manifestation of
this disorder are widowed. Similarly, incidence of coronary artery by pass surgery is
found to be more common among widowed women (Herman. Froom and Galambos.
1993).This problem is caused by delay in going for necessary medical correction.
Hermal,, believed that the delay might not be unconnected with widow’s new roles
as family head, bread winner etc. In the opinion of Gbenda (1997), the biological
arrangement in which women most often outlive their husband by an average of seven
to seventeen (7-17) years, naturally imposes on the widow roles hitherto reserved for the
man/male head of the family and its attendant stress.
Widowhood is also associated with intense grief and anger expression, especially
among more widows than the divorced when compared together (Kitson and Zynganki,
1987 and Oniye, 2000). In the views of Thomas and Shechan (1988) this is more
common among women in widowhood because of deprivation following loss of spousal
intimacy through death. In the opinion of Ambert (1986) apart from divorce, widowhood
is the greatest source of psycho-social deprivation for children of female-headed
Stress has been defned as the body’s and mind’s way of meeting a challenge.
Stress leads to a build-up of tension that if not relieved, can cause anxiety-a fear of
what might happen even when no threat exists (Missouri Advisory, Council for
Comprehensive Psychiatric Services, Oct., 2003). The symptoms and resultant efects of
stress for the individual and by extension larger society are many. For instance it has
been established that the disappointment or frustration that causes stress also can lead
to depression, a serious mental illness characterized by fatigue, insomnia, boredom,
restlessness. Lack of interest in life, and withdrawal which if left untreated can lead to
feelings of unworthiness, isolation and even suicide.
However in his own defnition, Oniye (2000) saw stress as the state of being,
manifested by an individual (especially widows), as a result of perceived inability to cope
with demands of living or other life situations following the death of a spouse. It has
been asserted earlier by Adeoye (1991) that stress or life stress could manifest itself in
psychological, physiological or behavioural symptoms. Thus, with reference to widows
and widowhood, stress could imply any life situation, event or demand that appears
threatening or beyond their innate resources be it intellectual, emotional and socio-
economic ability or resources. It has been observed that among the causes of stress for
people, is the incidence of having too much or too little responsibilities, whether for
people or things. Thus a widow with too much or tool little responsibilities could
become stressed, especially if the new situation looks tasking or challenging to her or
appear to be beyond her resource out rightly (Coper, 1981).
The factors likely to engender stress in an individual are mainly personal characteristics
to this is because diferent people react diferently to diferent stimuli depending on
their generic and environmental infuences. Specifcally, stress as it relates to
widowhood is believed to be caused by a number of factors such
as the uniqueness of the husband-wife relationship. Thus it is believed that death or
loss of a spouse is the most stressful life event (Oniye, 2000). In Nigeria, widowhood is
particularly stressful because the after efect of widowhood practices is pathetic. This is
in line with the notion that the living condition of so many widows become dismal after
the observance of the mandatory mourning and widowhood practice (like, 1993 and
Ozoagu, 1993).
Behavioural symptoms of stress as related by Miller (1988) include such features
as lack of concentration, procrastination, and excessive use of drugs. Other symptoms
in this category are accident and low performance, speech dissiliences, restlessness;
sleep disturbance and avoidance behaviour (Paroasuman and Alluto, 1988). In Nigeria,
widows are known to manifest excess disability, cognitive impairment, increased
symptoms from medical illness, physiological efects, increased utilization of health care
services and increased rate of suicide and non-suicide mortality (Solomon, Osterweiss
&Green 1984 and Oniye, 2000).
The sources of stress for widows in Nigeria are mainly three vis: physiological,
economical and psychological stress factors (Gbenda, 1997). In some other societies, it
has been discovered that the stress of widowhood in this culture is aggravated by the
stigma that the widow is instrumental to the dearth of her husband (Osarenren, 1998).
Sociological stress source of widows relates to the shortcoming of their
orientation which conditioned them to think that it is impolite for them to initiate social
contacts. Thus, upon the death of their husbands, they frequently feel that they cannot
initiate new social contacts, especially with members of the opposite sex. This
essentially might not be unconnected with the ingrained passivity and fear that it is in-
appropriate to take the lead in male-female relationship. Gbenda (1997) and Oniye
(2000) had opined that in African societies, showing too much enthusiasm even in
general social situations by a lady might be interpreted as ‘’being pushy: thus, where
the men folk are not forthcoming with the initiative for social relationship, forming a
new one by the widow is likely to be difcult if not impossible.
Rehabilitation is a process of restoring an individual to health or normal life by
training, remedial intervention and therapy after a traumatic life experience (e.g.
bereavement in the life of a widow). In the opinion of Ogunsanya (2002), it involves
restoration (of a person) to a former condition (of optimal functionality). Rehabilitation is
dynamic health oriented process that assists a person to achieve the greatest possible
level of physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social and economic functioning (Ditmer
and Cresham, 1997). It has been noted that, if the stressed people (especially widows)
are to be assisted to transform their experiences of disabilities, despair, pain, guilt,
oppression, rejection, failure and even death into triumph, they must be provided with
survival strategies or coping skills necessary for fnding personal meaning for living
afordable through rehabilitation counseling (Ogunsanya, 2002; Oniye, 2000).
Statement of the Problem
It has been observed that widowhood afects more women than men fnancially,
psychologically, sexually and socially. Similarly, our traditional socialization which
emphasizes dependence and passivity hinder women’s attempts to adjust to widowhood
and create new life for themselves (Gbenda, 1997). However, as good as this submission
is, it should be stated from the onset that the state of widows in this culture is
moderately speaking “stressful”. Essentially, a number of works have been carried out
on nature of widowhood and plight of widows in Nigeria. For instance Osarenren (1998)
studied the status of widows among the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria, Olusakin (1998) wrote
on gender inequality and the stress level, supports system and adjustment strategies
among widows in Nigeria.
It is observed from the works cited that none of them per se concentrated on the
adjustment strategies of widows mainly. Thus, this present study is mainly focused on
the assessment of adjustment strategies of Nigeria widows towards widowhood stress.
Essentially, the main focus of this work is to examine the adjustment strategies often
employed by Nigerian widows towards widowhood stress.
Research Questions
1. What are the adjustment strategies of Nigerian widows?
2. What is the stress level of Nigerian widows?
3. Is there signifcant diference in the adjustment strategies of Nigerian widows
on the basis of their religious afliation?
Research Hypotheses
1. There is no signifcant diference in the adjustment strategies of Nigeria
widows on the basis of ethnic groups
2. There is no signifcant diference in the adjustment strategies of Nigerian
widows on the basis of educational level.
Signifcance of the Study
It has been established that at the initial stage of widowhood, most widows face
the problem of going to the cold shell of their home to fght loneliness (their major
enemy for a long time to follow). Thus, the fndings of this study would be of immense
beneft to widows who are in need of every practicable opportunity to reduce their
stress. This study is likely to supply widows with useful information on available
adjustment strategies capable of integrating them holistically into larger society. This is
imperative, because the age-long cultural conceptions of marital role expectations now
seem inadequate for present day widows who have to grapple with the new and multiple
role of breadwinner, physical protector, custodian of society morality as well as caring,
feeding and educating their children (most time all alone).
The fnding of this study would be useful to the government in that it would
bring to the fore the plight of widows in our society. In the same vein, the fndings of
this study is likely to provide a veritable source of information to scholars in the feld of
bereavement counselling for the purpose of directing the focus of widows toward useful
adjustment strategies. Policy makers and opinion leaders in matters related to widows
could beneft form the fndings of this study via its submissions on the stress level and
adjustment strategies pf Nigerian widows.
Above all, professional counselors could beneft from the fndings of this study in
playing their role as crisis managers, providers of relief to stressed people among others.
Essentially, this could be achieved through their fortifcation with up-to-date
information on the efectiveness or otherwise of the adjustment strategies available to
widows and those often employed by them. On the basis of this awareness, counsellors
would be adequately equipped to counsel the widows, their relatives and signifcant
others in the life of widows on the essence of adjustment strategies for integrating
widows meaningfully into the larger society.
The research design adopted for this study is the descriptive survey method.
This is a research design which enables a researcher to obtain information from a
representative sample of the population, to describe the situation as they exist and from
where the researcher can infer the perception of the entire population (Best, 1981).
Descriptive survey approach is adopted for this study because the researcher is
interested in fnding out the perception of widows about the stress levels and
adjustment strategies across the three main ethnic groups of Nigeria.
According to Oniye (1995), descriptive survey method deals with systematic
description of an event or a prevalent situation in very factual and accurate manner. In
his view, descriptive survey is essentially okay for researches like cross-ethnic studies.
Sample and Sampling Procedure
The target populations for the study are widows from the three major ethnic
groups of Nigeria’ (i.e. Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba). The sample was drawn from these
ethnic groups from three former regional headquarters of Kaduna. Enugu and Ibadan.
The purposive sampling technique was used to select the 865 sample for the study. This
involves deliberate scouting for widows from places like their working place, religious
gatherings, and co-operative society meeting e.t.c.
The main focus of this study was to establish the nature of stress levels and
adjustment strategies of Nigeria widows. The instruments used for this study were (a)
Stress Rating Scale for Widows (SRSW) and (b) Widows Adjustment Strategies
Questionnaire (WASQ) developed by the researcher. The frst instrument was made up
of two parts i.e. sections A and B. while the section A seeks demographic information,
Section B consists of four sub sections meant to assess levels of stress confronting the
widows. These sub-sections are labeled: (i) socio-psychological stressor; (ii) fnancial
stressors; (iii) health and emotional stressors; and (iv) authority and responsibility
The second questionnaire that is Widow’s Adjustment Strategies Questionnaire
consists of fve parts (i.e) A-E meant to elicit information on widow’s adjustment
techniques for stress management. The sub-headings for this particular instrument are:
(i) interpersonal –oriented behaviours; (ii) self-care- oriented behaviours; (iii) cognitive-
oriented behaviours; (iv) time-management-oriented behaviours; and (1v) solitary-
oriented behaviours. The two questionnaires were scored on fve and four point likert
type rating scale respectively. The instruments were personally administered by the
researcher and other trained research assistants on the sample in their respective
The result of the study at a glance reveals that almost all the widows
experiences stressful widowhood in the same way they reported the usage of selected
adjustment strategies as shown in table 1:
Table 1: Distribution of respondents by stress levels and adjustment strategies
Variable No of Respondents Percentage
1. Stress level
Low 258 29.8
Medium 518 59.9
High 89 10.3
Total 865 100.0
2. Adjustment Strategies
Interpersonal-oriented behaviour 845 97.7
Self-care-oriented behaviour 852 98.4
Cognitive-oriented behaviour 856 99.0
Time management oriented behaviour 850 98.2
Solitary-oriented behaviour 848 98.0
Table I reveals that out of the 865 widows who were studied in this investigation,
258 (29.8%), 518 (59.9%) and 89 (10.3%) reported experiencing low, medium and high
stress levels respectively. However, on the average almost all the widows confrmed using
one form of adjustment strategy or the other to combat the stress of widowhood as
shown in table one viz:
Interpersonal, self-care, cognitive, time management and solitary-oriented
behaviours (in order of priority thus: 99.0; 97.7; 98.4; 98.2; & 98.0).
Hypothesis one: there is no signifcant diference in the adjustment strategies
of Nigerian widows from the three ethnic groups.
Table 2: Analysis Of Variance (ANOVA) on adjustment strategies of Nigerian widows
on the basis of ethnic groups
D.F. S.S. M.S. Cal.F. Critical F.
Model 2 4949.75 2474.75
Error 862 129789.41 150.56 16.44* 3.00
Corrected total 864 13479.16
* signifcant P<) .05.
Table 2 show the analysis of variance (ANOVA) on adjustment strategies of
Nigerian widows from the three main ethnic groups. The table indicated that there is
signifcant diference among Nigerian widows from the three main ethnic groups on the
basis of ethnic groups; this is because the calculated F. ratio of 16.44 is greater than
the critical F. ratio of 3.00 at 0.05 alpha levels. However, a post-hoc test, The Duncan
Multiple Range Test was conducted to establish the magnitude and direction of the
observed diference.
Table 3: Duncan Multiple Range Test (DMRT) on adjustment strategies of Nigerian
widows on the basis of ethnic group
Ethnic No of
Percentage Mean score Duncan
Yoruba 314 36.3 45.28 A
Hausa 307 35.5 49.46 B
Igbo 244 28.2 50.92 C
Diferent Duncan letters indicate diferences among the ethnic groups. The
result of Duncan Multiple Range test on table 3 shows that all the three ethnic groups
difer signifcantly in their adjustment strategies. This is because Yoruba widows 314
(36.3%) have a mean score of 45.28, Hausa widows-307 (35.55%) have a mean score of
49.46, while Igbo widows – 244 (28.2%) have a mean score of 50.92. It is thus clear
from the diferent Duncan letters that the Yoruba widows used the least efective
adjustment strategies as compared to Hausa and Igbo widows who reported using very
efective adjustment strategies.
Hypothesis two: There is no signifcant diference in the adjustment strategies of
Nigerian widows on the basis of education level.
Table 4: Analysis of variance (ANOVA) on adjustment strategies of Nigerian widows
on the basic of educational level
D.F. S.S. M.S. Cal.F. Critical F.
Model 2 5680.08 2840.40
Error 862 129059.08 149.72
Corrected total 864 13479.16 18.97* 3.00
* signifcant P<) .05.
Table 5 shows the Analysis Of Variance (ANOVA) on the adjustment strategies of
Nigeria widows on the basis of their educational level. The table reveals that there is a
signifcant diference among widow’s adjustment strategies on the basis of their
educational level. This is because the calculated F. ratio of 18.97 is higher than the
critical F. ratio at 0.05 alpha levels.
However, a post-hoc test-Duncan Multiple Range Test was conducted to
determine both the magnitude and direction of the diference found.
Table 5: Duncan Multiple Range Test (DMRT) on adjustment strategies of Nigerian
widows on the basis of educational level
Educational level No of
Percentage Mean score Duncan
Primary six 355 41.0 45.32
Sec. school
352 40.7 50.11 B
First degree and
158 18.3 51.25 C
Diferent Duncan letters indicate diference among widows of diferent
educational levels.
The result of Duncan Multiple Range Test on table 5 indicates that there is
signifcant diference among widows of diferent educational levels in their adjustment
strategies. This is because widows who have primary six education 355 (41.05) have
mean score of 45.32, while the other two groups- 352 and 158 (40.7 & 18.355) have
mean score of 50.11 and 51.25 respectively. It is clear from the diferent Duncan letters
that widows with only primary six education used the least efective adjustment
strategies compared to the other two groups who reported the use of more efective
adjustment strategies.
Discussion of Findings
The two hypothesis generated stated that there is no signifcant diference in
adjustment strategies of Nigerian widows on the basis of their ethnic group and
educational levels. However, it was seen by results of the analyses that Nigerian widows
difer signifcantly in their adjustment strategies on the bases of their ethnic group and
educational levels. This is possible because of cultural and environmental diferences in
widowhood expectations and challenge. In Nigeria, widows socially, psychologically and
economically experience stressful widowhood. Thus, the fnding of this study buttresses
earlier submission by Abolarin (1997) that cultural infuence is a major determinant of
widow’s stress and support system. It has been established that socio-cultural factors
do infuence widow’s opportunities and challenges, especially in a multi-cultural society
like Nigeria. Thus, the fnding of this study agrees with the observation by Gbenda
(1997) that of predominant importance are widow’s personality factors (like her marital
and parental ethnic background) on her level of deprivation in widowhood and the
subsequent support systems and adjustment strategies adopted to combat the stress
associated with widowhood. Similarly , the fndings of this study especially on
adjustment strategies confrms the fnding of Wiebe (1987) McGloshen and O’Byrant
(1988) that widows adjustment to bereavement is a function of her personality trait,
socio-economic status and socio-cultural opportunities.
However, the fnding that there is signifcant diference among Nigerian widows
in their adjustment strategies confrms the importance of education attainment in
enhancing widow’s adjustment. This is especially noticeable from the close range of
mean scores of widows with secondary and post secondary school education which goes
to reafrm the relative importance of education as a predicator of optimal adjustment.
Education attainment according to Oniye (2000) is like an in-built mechanism, the
possession of which appropriately equips its possessor for life challenges (like
widowhood and its attendant stress).
Furthermore, the fnding that widowhood practice in Nigerian is stressful and
diference in widow’s adjustment strategies buttresses the submission by Choi (1992)
that widow’s adjustment in the area of socio-economic status is a function of other
attributes or personal resources like widow’s level of education, work history and social
It could be concluded from the fndings of this study that:
(1) Nigerian widows difer signifcantly in both their stress level and adjustment
strategies on the basis of ethnic background and level of educational attainment.
(2) Ethnic background and educational attainment of widows are major predicators
of their stress and adjustment to widowhood in a multi-cultural setting like
Based on the realization that widowhood is generally stressful for widows, it is
hereby recommended that massive and intensive campaign should be mounted nation-
wide to sanitize people on the need to stop all forms of abuse associated with
It is further recommended that Nigerian senators and National Assembly
members should legislate against all oppressive, barbaric or dehumanizing mourning
rites and widowhood customs that tend to heighten widowhood stress and hamper
Based upon the fndings of the study with respect to importance of education in
enhancing meaningful adjustment to widowhood, it is recommended that rehabilitation
counselling to be provided should emphasize cognitive restructuring: for widows to
enable them accept their plight philosophically. Similarly, they should be oriented to
appreciate the inevitability of the phenomenon (in most cases for women) and the need
to acquire requisite skills for survival after spousal bereavement. In order to actualize
this goal, widows in Nigeria need be provided with functional education capable of
emancipating them from the stress and tension of widowhood.
Rehabilitation counselling to be provided, demands that counsellor-trainees be
fortifed with training in bereavement and widowhood counselling. This is necessary in
order to equip the counsellor-trainees adequately to adequately meet the challenges of
providing rehabilitative counseling. Essentially, counsellors to provide rehabilitative’
counselling ought to possess a thorough grasp of widowhood as a concept, stress level
and sources as well as the adjustment strategies options to be adopted.
Furthermore, rehabilitation counselling to be provided should emphasize the
afliation of widows to credible support groups like multipurpose co-operative societies
, religious organizations like Federation of Muslim Women in Nigeria (FOMWAN),
Widows Organization International and a host of others where they could interact
meaningfully for optimal integration.
Apart from the above, rehabilitation counselling should emphasize the need for
widows to acquire skills needed for securing gainful employment either in public/
private or personal enterprise. For instance, they should be oriented to appreciate the
usefulness of possessing impressive academic qualifcations, basic know-how of
transacting business, saving for old age and future investment among others.
Finally, the rehabilitation counselling to be provided should appropriately
orientate young widows towards the imperativeness of remarriage especially for those
widowed before the age of thirty fve (35years). This is crucial, if their physiological and
psychological needs like sexual gratifcation, provision of emotional support and social
support are to be legitimately satisfed.
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