Jenny Gierveld, born in Rijssen, the Netherlands, in 1938. Ph.D. from the VU University, Amsterdam. Former Director of the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI), The Hague, and Professor of Sociology and Social Gerontology at the VU University, Amsterdam
Permanent Fellow (1 September 2002 – 30 June 2003)
While at NIAS, I was convenor of the research theme group investigating older adults’ life strategies preparing for the future. The programme was oriented towards theoretical as well as empirical research on social aspects of ageing, especially the social institutions, norms and values that influence whether older adults participate, and are integrated, in society or are isolated and segregated. Scholars from the Netherlands and from abroad worked together in this group and met at weekly seminars. We discussed the theoretical framework for conducting international comparisons of empirical data on the sociological aspects of ageing, and organised an international seminar at NIAS to present the first outcomes of the group activities to expert colleagues (June 1-4, 2003).
I was able to develop new theoretical methods to fine-tune the theoretical concept: ‘Social separation/ segregation of old and young’. Being able to interact on a daily basis with colleagues from abroad such as Peter Uhlenberg, Gunhild Hagestad, Christine Oppong, Jay Ginn and Janet Fast moved theoretical and empirical research forward, e.g. also in completing international comparative empirical research about age segregation in later life. Our research on the age composition of the personal social networks of older adults revealed that very few older people have regular contact with young non-kin adults. However, participation in age-diverse organisations (volunteer and work settings) and the occurrence of events that disrupt social networks, such as divorce, increased the likelihood of older persons interacting with other age groups.
Longstanding close non-kin relationships and their function as vehicles in social integration were investigated, together with Dan Perlman, by comparing social network data from the United States and the Netherlands. Results show that, in both countries, network stability is related to the duration of non-kin relationships. The length of non-kin relationships seems to improve the social networks and consequently the social well-being of older adults.
I continued my work on the re-partnering of older adults and prepared several publications on this theme and made progress on the work on loneliness. Together with Betty Havens, I wrote an introductory chapter for a volume of an international journal that will be devoted specifically to loneliness. A chapter for a textbook on Loneliness, to be published by Cambridge University Press, is in progress.
My year at NIAS has been one of the most challenging and most productive experiences of my academic life.