A great deal of recent scientific inquiry about the elderly has addressed relations between middle-aged children and elderly parents, and in particular issues around filial caregiving. However, around 20% of those age 65 and older have no children. The major specific aim of this proposed study is to examine the situations of childless elderly women with an eye towards issues of caregiving, generativity, and general lifestyles. Further, an examination of the background to generativity issues among this cohort would also aid in clarifying the cultural construction of the life course, the flow of lives through time, and the correlates of generativity in old age. The need for this study is suggested by the notable changes that have occurred in the social lives of both women and elders since previous cohorts. The advent of the women's movement when these women were in mid-life, general improvements in the lives and health of the aged, changes in the forms and meanings of family, access to new forms of support, and in increased sense of independence and power for many women have been some markers of these changes. The proposed study has four specific aims: 1. To examine issues concerning generativity and lifestyles of the older population of women;2. To better understand the caregiving needs and resources of this group;3. To compare these issues among seven different groups of childless and childed older women;and 4. To contrast these issues among two ethnic groups, European-Americans and African-Americans. Groups of childless older women to be interviewed include the never-married, currently married, widowed, divorced, and women who have survived an only child. For purposes of contrast, we will also interview women with only one child and women with four-or-more children. These groups will be divided among African Americans and European Americans. Each informant will be interviewed over three weekly sessions for a total of 630 interviews (three per person). Qualitative and ethnographic interviewing methods will be utilized;standard methods of qualitative analysis will be utilized and will include the development of an indexed text-base for analysis using Atlas.ti.

Public Health Relevance

Although the parent-child relationship has been found to be especially important in late life, little is known about how childless older women view and cope with the challenges of aging (e.g., health and caregiving needs, views of generativity and self-concept) without filial support. The proposed research investigates the subjective meaning of childlessness and the needs and resources of this group. The relevance is found in making the lives of elderly childless women more accessible and their issues, problems and strengths more visible including their preferences and need for health care and caregiving services.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Community Influences on Health Behavior (CIHB)
Program Officer
Haaga, John G
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Maryland Balt CO Campus
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Hannum, Susan M; Black, Helen K; Rubinstein, Robert L et al. (2017) Chronic Illness and Generativity in Late Life: A Case Study. Gerontologist 57:171-178
Black, Helen K; Hannum, Susan M; Rubinstein, Robert L et al. (2016) Generativity in Elderly Oblate Sisters of Providence. Gerontologist 56:559-68
Black, Helen K; Hannum, Susan M (2015) Aging, Spirituality, and Time: A Qualitative Study. J Relig Spiritual Aging 27:145-165
de Medeiros, Kate; Rubinstein, Robert; Ermoshkina, Polina (2015) The Role of Relevancy and Social Suffering in ""Generativity"" Among Older Post-Soviet Women Immigrants. Gerontologist 55:526-36
Rubinstein, Robert L; Girling, Laura M; de Medeiros, Kate et al. (2015) Extending the Framework of Generativity Theory Through Research: A Qualitative Study. Gerontologist 55:548-59
de Medeiros, Kate (2009) Suffering and Generativity: Repairing Threats to Self in Old Age. J Aging Stud 23:97-102