“Do you have any children?” “No. (laughs) I’m sure of that.”: identity work from older childless people.
In: Social Psychology Section Annual Conference 2011, 6-8 September 2011, Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge.
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This paper reviews transcripts of interviews with childless older people. It addresses research questions concerning how childless older people make sense of their relationships and social and emotional needs, and any gendered patterns of sense-making.
Secondary analysis is applied to two Qualidata datasets, SN 5237 Adding Quality to Quantity: Quality of Life in Older Age, 2000–2002 (80 interviews with people over 65 years: 9 childless women, 5 childless men) and SN 6011 Older Men: Their Social Worlds and Healthy Lifestyles, 1999–2002 (85 interviews with men over 65 years: 16 childless men). Normative understandings of the life course tend to focus on family life: older people are largely represented as grandparents. Research has tended to ignore the specific experience and perspectives of the childless. The two datasets referred to include those without children among those interviewed, and some comparison can be made of self-representation and identity work undertaken.
These datasets were the only relevant ones available at the time of planning the study. All interview transcripts were reviewed in order to identify those without children. The data are analysed using a synthetic form of discourse analysis.
The data overall resound with references to children and grandchildren. Preliminary findings in these subsets are of rhetorical work from childless women interviewed: claims of closeness to neighbours’ children, or other affiliative connections. Somewhat in response to the interviewers’ line of questioning, the identity work of male participants tends to focus on current or earlier relationships with women.
The paper concludes concerning the gap in the literature on older people without children and argues that it is important to learn from their perspectives in ways that respect their individuality.
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