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  • New study at Edge Hill University finds unmarried women struggle to find place in society

    Henry James

    ‘UNMARRIED women and those who never have children struggle to find their place in society’ new research from an Edge Hill University academic reveals.

    Interviews with women over 50 who have never married and/or never had children, found they often faced a battle for status and identity compared with married women and mothers.

    Edge Hill Psychologist and Research Assistant Sergio A. Silverio found women who hadn’t followed the “normal” life-course often suffered from loneliness and relied more heavily on long-standing friendships with women in the same situation rather than close family.

    Sergio interviewed 12 women aged between 50 and 78, six of whom had children, who had followed a ‘non-normative life course’ (had not married and/or had children).

    He found that as these women weren’t acting as carers for grandchildren and partners like many of their peers they often felt marginalised and lonely despite otherwise leading fulfilled lives.

    Sergio, said: “My initial findings concentrated on the women’s perceptions of their femininity, status and how society viewed them as unmarried women. This latest analysis of the same data looks specifically at their social networks. As men and women age the dynamics of their social circles alter, some people fall away as others join on in later life. In ‘normative’ life courses women maintain friends formed through their spouses and children.

    “Usually older people rely less on relatives and more on ‘fictive-kin’ (long established friendships built over many years). For the women I interviewed, those friends (fictive kin) were often acting as carers to grandchildren and relatives and as the majority of women I interviewed did not have partners and half didn’t have children either, they found themselves alone, if not lonely.

    “They struggled finding an identity within society which was multiplied if they were both unmarried and childless. Overall participants expressed disappointment that they hadn’t followed the traditional life-course and at times felt marginalised by peers of the same age.

    “This feeling was mitigated in those who had good, close, long standing relationships with other single and/or childless women.”

    Sergio, who works in Edge Hill’s Evidence-Based Practice Research Centre in the Faculty of Health and Social Care, presented his findings on July 13 at the British Psychological Society’s 30th Psychology of Women Conference.

    He added: “This research gives a voice to a group in society that you wouldn’t naturally consider ‘marginalised’. The fact these women experience loneliness is a precursor to wider mental health and social well-being issues.

    “More research is needed into this group and how their loneliness can be addressed in relation to health care services and provision.”


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