The age-old need to ease the financial burden faced by widows

The age-old need to ease the financial burden faced by widows

4 minute read

Widows have always faced financial burdens and challenges to their health and safety. Marking the UN International Widow's Day, we look back on Aegon’s history of supporting families when the worst happens.

Grief at the loss of a spouse has always been part of human experience. The same is true of the financial consequences for death of a partner. 

In fact, Aegon's earliest predecessors (1759-1843) were all burial funds in the Netherlands. Life was hard and death due to accidents, disease or childbirth were common. Aside from everything else, the loss of the breadwinner - usually the man - was particularly hard in financial terms for their widows and children. 

Being buried at the expense of the state or charity was considered not done in Dutch society, even for people with little means. Paying for a proper funeral was an expensive undertaking, leading to the need to set money aside, or take out insurance in case the worst happened. And it all too often did, as most people didn't live to see old age. Born in the early 1800s, you could expect to live between 30 and 35 years old. A third of children did not survive infancy.

Burial funds

This led to the creation of burial funds, such as the Broederlijke Liefdebeurs ('Brotherly Love fund'), founded in 1759 and one of Aegon's unofficial predecessors. Insurers were not professional organizations; sometimes, insured families had to serve as unpaid pall bearers at other funerals, to keep costs down. At other times, members were asked to collect premiums from other families or pay out claims in name of the company.

Some burial funds also included a modest amount to financially support the widow or orphans for a short period of time after the loss of the husband and father. The Meisjes-, Vrouwen- en Weduwenfonds ('Girls'-, Women's- and Widow's fund) from 1828, is Aegon's earliest unofficial predecessor that sold life insurance based on actuarial science. This rigorous mathematics, to calculate risk and uncertainty, is still used today.

Funeral and burial insurance (including an element of life insurance) is still available in the Netherlands and many other countries. Aegon divested its funeral insurance business in 2010, but our commitment to supporting our customers has not wavered. Our businesses in the Netherlands and other key markets focus on providing investment, protection, and retirement solutions to help our customers achieve a healthy and financially secure future at every stage of life.

Why mark International Widow's Day?

Many people in the markets in which we operate have access to bank savings and other types of insurance and pension products to help financially following the death of a partner. In other parts of the world, such a loss the loss can lead to severe financial problems and debt burdens. The United Nations says has observed 23 June as International Widows Day since 2011 to draw attention to the voices and experiences of widows and to galvanize the unique support that they need:

"For many women around the world, the devastating loss of a partner is magnified by a long-term fight for their basic rights and dignity. Despite the fact that there are more than 258 million widows around the world, widows have historically been left unseen, unsupported, and unmeasured in our societies."

United Nations

The challenges can be acute for widows in developing countries. These can include poverty due to limited or no access to financial resources, inheritance, or land ownership. Poor nutrition, inadequate shelter, and vulnerability to violence, sometimes related to inheritance, land, and property disputes. Large numbers of women are widowed due to armed conflict. This is reality, for example, in parts of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Time to act

The UN says that that International Widow's Day is an opportunity to act towards achieving full rights and recognition for widows. Important measures include providing them with information on accessing a fair share of their inheritance, land, and productive resources; providing pensions and social protection that are not based on marital status alone; decent work and equal pay; and education and training opportunities.

Empowering widows to support themselves and their families also means addressing social stigmas that create exclusion, and discriminatory or harmful practices.

Read more about International Widow's Day