Older women's lives

February 26, 2003

Older women in Britain could have better lives if public authorities paid more attention to what is important to older people, says new research on women aged between 60 and 75.

The research on women from different ethnic and economic backgrounds reveals them to be more positive and coping than often portrayed in reports. The research project within the £3.5m Growing Older Programme, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), found that far from grumbling all the time, many older women emphasise the good things in their lives.

Poor public transport restricted mobility but it tended to be seen more as a challenge than a lost cause. Women in urban areas cannot always get to church and other places of worship on Sundays, for instance, when there are few bus services. They cannot afford the option of taxis. So some develop personalised prayer rituals as a substitute for attendance.

Professor Mary Maynard, University of York, says religion is particularly important for first generation migrants but is also significant for women from all backgrounds. It contributes to their sense of 'being'. (Identification and improvement of quality of life is one of the themes of the Growing Older Programme). For almost all minority ethnic women, religious practice is the norm. For some, migrating to Britain had made their faith stronger.

For women whose home has always been Britain but have moved from one part of the country to another, churches were found to have an important social as well as spiritual role enabling women to form new friendship networks. For women who are widows, or never married, churches and other places of worship (apart from the mosque) are one of the few places where women can visit on their own.

The 150 women who took part in the survey included African-Caribbean (Catholic and Protestant) Indian (Hindus and Sikhs), Pakistani and Bangladeshi (Muslim), Polish (Catholic) and 'non-migrant' white women who came from Catholic and different kinds of Protestant backgrounds. Interviews were conducted person-to-person and in groups in the Yorkshire area.

Health emerged as the most important issue in relation to quality of life. Money is an issue and more would be welcome but most women do not put it on the top of the agenda. Mobility is important with women in the age range demonstrating a vast range of abilities. While some people regularly walk the Yorkshire Dales, others are dependent on Access buses which have to be booked in advance.

Areas which could make older women's lives better include improved community centres, particularly for minority ethnic women, and more listening to poorer white women in inner cities who say that they are not consulted on planning and services in their area and were becoming prey to right wing propaganda.
For further information, contact Professor Maynard, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York. Tel: 01904 321247 email mm45@york.ac.uk
Or Iain Stewart, External Relations, ESRC on telephone 01793 413032 or by email at iain.stewart@esrc.ac.uk.

Economic & Social Research Council
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