3 to 5 pm
Aging Women and the Meanings of Work
Melissa Walker, Converse College
This paper explores the meanings that aging gave to work. In the mid-twentieth century, Americans came to accept the ideas of an age-limited work cycle and a retirement of leisure. This model ignored the fact that much of women’s work—the work of caring for home and family–would continue long after retirement age. Moreover, women themselves often rejected the retirement of leisure model. In letters, diaries, oral history interviews, and memoirs, women described their devotion to productive activity. This pattern persists across the range of racial and ethnic backgrounds, educational attainment, sexual orientation, geographic locations, and socioeconomic status. Women’s stories serve as a counter-narrative, then, to the male-centered notion that modern old age was characterized by leisure and challenge theories of aging advanced by mid-century sociologists, psychologists, and gerontologists.
Respondent: Corrine Field, University of Virginia
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