The meaning and significance of leisure for women in later life
Cardiff Metropolitan University
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Despite the increase in the number of men living beyond the age of fifty, the sex ratio (the number of men to the number of women) is still 85 men per 100 women in the UK. Indeed at the age of 85 and over, the sex ratio is only 40 men per 100 women, clearly indicating that older women outnumber men, particularly at the 'oldest-old' phase of life. In this context, it is surprising that little research exists within the field of leisure studies on the significance and meaning of leisure for this group. This thesis therefore, attempts to provide an in depth exploration of the role leisure plays in the lives of women aged 75 and over. The thesis begins by examining demographic trends in the UK, placing particular emphasis on the growth in the number of older women. Consideration is then given to examining the increasing number of initiatives, from both international and national agencies, to ensure that the lives of older people are fulfilled and that they are able to participate fully in society. In particular, emphasis is placed on examining the 'active ageing' agenda of both UK national and regional government. The optimistic approaches to later life adopted by the active ageing initiatives is then contrasted with the negative, ageist societal understandings and expectations of old age. Approaches to later life which both the fields of gerontology and leisure studies have adopted are also analysed. In doing so, similarities in the way both fields have treated older people are highlighted, particularly the often negative and pessimistic portrayals of older people's lives within these fields. In doing so, the need for more critical approaches to the study of later life is highlighted. The contribution which postmodern and feminist research can make to more in-depth and optimistic assessments of older women's lives is also considered. In recognising the need for more critical research on older women aged15 and over, particularly research which listens to the voices of older women themselves, rather than treating them as 'objects' of research, this thesis used both semi-structured and biographical interviews to examine the leisure of this under researched group, The findings contradict many stereotyped perceptions of older women as passive, under active participants in leisure but instead present a picture of this group of ,women as leading busy, fulfilled lives, engaged in much purposeful and highly satisfying leisure activity. In doing so, this alternative research approach provides an insight into older women's leisure which challenges society's often ageist and negative portrayals of older women's lives. The research findings also indicate the extent to which these older women's distinct interpretations and meanings of leisure have emerged as a result of shared structural and historical events as well as individual personal experiences. Thus, whilst the semi-structured interviews allowed for an insight into the women's current leisure activities, at a snap shot in time, the biographical interviews allowed for an exploration of the historical social, cultural and political contexts through which they have lived and which have influenced their life chances, opportunities and experiences as well as their current perceptions of leisure.
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