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Fellow (1 September 2002 - 30 June 2003)
At NIAS, I participated in Jenny Gierveld's theme group on ageing. One of the central issues addressed by the group concerned the integration of older adults in society. My research at the NIAS focused on marriage and parenthood as avenues to social integration.
In an analysis of the diversity in older adults' partnerships, I found evidence that second marriages and 'new' forms of partnerships (such as consensual unions and living-apart-and-together relationships) do not provide the same kind of protection against social and emotional isolation as first marriages do. Remarriage can produce conflicting loyalties and insecurity about allegiances and for that reason might give rise to feelings of isolation. The poorer protection against isolation of 'new' relationships presumably derives from the lack of ritual ceremony to publicly celebrate these relationships.
Insight into the socially integrative functions of parenthood can be gained from focusing on those who have not made that transition, childless older adults. A focus on the childless means a focus on people whose status is not supported institutionally and for whom there are no socially shared guidelines for conduct. In my research at NIAS on the life courses of childless older adults, I dispel myths about the childless, such as the myth that they are socially isolated, at risk of being without the supports they need, and so forth. There has been a tendency to view the childless through a lens of deficiency. My results show that it is more appropriate to view them as pioneering life course architects, who have led lives 'off the beaten track'.
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