Although childless women comprise around 17% of women aged 65 and over in the US (Census Bureau, US, 2016) and up to 20% in other places in the world (Dykstra, 2009), the intersection of childlessness, female gender and old age has not been as widely explored as is necessary; older women have historically been and continue to be overlooked in feminist research compared to other groups of women (Browne, 1998; Ray, 1996; Twigg, 2004). Therefore, how childlessness affects identity and identity, childlessness in later life is not well understood. Our analysis considered: How do never-married, childless women identify themselves in terms of age? What are the key features of such an age identity? And, do these identities align with progress narratives or narratives of decline? For this chapter, interviews with 53 older women (22 African American, 31 White) aged 60 and over, who described themselves as never married and without biological children, were analysed. Questions were semi-structured and open-ended and covered background health information, a life story interview, questions about social networks, various forms of generativity and the sample’s views about the future. Overall, these women negotiated their age identity not necessarily in relation to others (e.g. child, spouse) but in relation to themselves as social actors with an orientation towards the future – what will tomorrow bring? These forward-thinking narratives point to a new and important way to consider progress narratives and to rethink trajectories of the experience of aging.
We would like to thank the National Institute on Aging for supporting this research (1-R01-AG03061-01A1). We would also like to thank all of the women who shared their stories and experiences with us.
de Medeiros, K. and Rubinstein, R.L. (2018), "Age Identity and Never-married Childless Older Women", Sappleton, N. (Ed.) Voluntary and Involuntary Childlessness (Emerald Studies in Reproduction, Culture and Society), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 193-213. https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-78754-361-420181009Download as .RIS
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