Wray, Sharon (2003) Women growing older: agency, ethnicity and culture. Sociology: The journal of the British Sociological Association, 37 (3). pp. 511-528. ISSN 0038-0385

This article considers the extent to which gerontological theories, that highlight the problems associated with later life, reflect the experiences of older women across ethnic and cultural difference. It is based on an ESRC research study examining women’s experiences of growing old across ethnicity and culture. Concepts that are often used to measure these experiences include ‘quality of life’ and ‘successful ageing’.These are linked to other culturally related concepts such as agency, self-autonomy, independence and dis/empowerment.Yet, while it is the case that the meanings attached to these concepts change according to locality and context, they are often applied in a way that reifies dominant values and perceptions.
Central to this article is the contention that gerontological approaches have often made ethnic and cultural experiences of later life invisible. Further, such approaches have assumed that agency is something that is either present or absent and that this is linked almost exclusively to income, housing, and other structures. A key argument is that this has led to an overstatement of the effects of structural disadvantage and a neglect of the diverse individual and collective strategies women use to maintain agency and control in later life. Empirical evidence presented in the article suggests there are significant cultural differences in the meanings older women attach to self-fulfilment and ‘successful ageing’.

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