Childless older women: combating a deficit identity?

Reynolds, Jill (2011). Childless older women: combating a deficit identity? In: International Society of Critical Health Psychology, 7th Biennial Conference, 18-20 Apr 2011, University of Adelaide, South Australia.



Government proposals on care for older people often elicit responses on the need to return to the attitude that it’s the family’s responsibility to look after its older members. Indeed social policy has tended to rely on the role of families when reducing the provision of social care through tax-supported services. How do people who don’t have any children experience the ageing process, and with reference to childlessness what kind of discursive work and conversational moves do they undertake in interview?
The normative expectations of a life progressing through stages associated with the heterosexual family, including love, marriage and parenthood, suggest that non-parenthood conjures up notions of loss and deficit – already an identity which can be attributed to single women (Reynolds and Wetherell, 2002; Reynolds and Taylor, 2005). In this paper I revisit narratives from childless women first interviewed as living alone in their fifties and sixties some thirteen years ago. Women demonstrated rhetorical work in discussing their handling of questions on whether or not they have children. What does non-parenting mean to them now they are in the sixties and more? How does generativity (more usually associated with having children and grandchildren) play for women entering later life? What sort of expectations or anxieties do they have about the ageing process and possible future needs for care and support?

Reynolds, J. and Wetherell, M. (2003) ‘The discursive climate of singleness: the consequences for women’s negotiation of a single identity’, Feminism & Psychology, 13(4) pp. 489–510.
Reynolds, J. and Taylor, S. (2005) ‘Narrating singleness: life stories and deficit identities’, Narrative Inquiry, 15(2), pp. 197–215.

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