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Never-married and childless women in midlife : an exploration of the issues Herringer, Barbara M.


Before we attempt to make, or influence policy as social workers, we have to know for whom we are making, or changing, policy. The experiences of never-married and childless women in midlife are rarely recorded in the literature. Despite feminist inroads, policy and research concerning midlife women are often based on the assumption and ideology that women in this age group are married and have children. As long as marriage and the nuclear family are seen as the only route for women, those who do not choose such a path will continue to be invisible, or to be seen as deviant. In an attempt to begin building an understanding of women who have, for various reasons, not married, an exploratory qualitative study was conducted in which twelve never-married and childless women in midlife, both lesbian and heterosexual, were interviewed using a semi-structured interview guide. Categories discussed included: family background and relationships; work, income, education, housing; sexual history; reflections on aging and midlife. The goal of this exploratory study is to provide information leading toward an understanding of the population and to provide a base for further research. The study illustrates the diversity of women even within an unrepresentative sample and points to the central importance of a sense of personal autonomy within the lives of never-married midlife women. The twelve interviews support existing research which suggests that education and long-term employment are factors in reducing poverty among women and presents a distillation of analytical categories into three core areas that reflect the respondent's perceptions regarding midlife and aging, work, and her never-married status.

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