The overall aim of the five studies that make up this thesis is to elucidate constructions of being old from the perspectives of gender and ethnicity. One of the studies uses quantitative data and four use qualitative data.
The sample in study I consisted of 125 participants from the Umeå 85+ study, aged 85 to 103 years old, who were able to use Likert scales in responding to questions. Studies II and III involved content analysis of interviews with old persons scoring on the extremes of the resilience scale. In study IV, interviews with nine Sami women were analysed using grounded theory. In study V, four interview situations were subjected to discourse analysis.
Study I showed statistically significant correlations between the scales measuring resilience, sense of coherence, purpose in life and self-transcendence. These scales were supposed to measuring a common dimension, which is here interpreted as “inner strength”. There was a significant correlation between women’s “inner strength” and perceived mental health.
The femininities found were associated with “being connected”, “being an actor”, “living in the shadow of others” and “being alienated”. The masculinities found were associated with “being in the male centre”, “striving to maintain the male facade” and “being related”. The femininity associated with “being an actor” and the masculinity associated with “being in the male centre” were pronounced in those participants assessed as having high resilience.
Old Sami woman were found to be balancing within various discourses, including being a reindeer owner versus not owning reindeer, being Sami versus being Swedish, speaking in Sami versus speaking in Swedish, dreaming about the past versus looking to the future, being equal to men versus living in the shadow of the male herders, and changing for survival versus striving to retain uniqueness as a Sami.
Study V revealed that shifts in power between the interviewer and the interviewed can be related to the discourses of age, gender, education, body, ethnicity and ideology.
This thesis presents a complex picture of what it means to be among the oldest old. The ageing, gendered and ethicised selves cannot be seen as socially and culturally fixed. For the women, the femininity expressed in “being connected” involved being satisfied, content and having positive relationships. “Being an actor” involved a stress on the person’s own strength and own choices. The femininities experienced as “living in the shadow of others” and “being alienated” generated narratives about dissociation and loneliness. For the men, it seemed important to relate to themselves and to other men. However, the masculinity expressed in “being related” involved an alternative form of masculinity, focusing on the importance of daily work, new relationships, and reflecting on the meaning of life. The Sami women showed strength in being able to position themselves between various discourses, but their narratives also showed tender sadness when they spoke of their longing for the past and for their mother tongue. The reflection on how narratives are constructed by both the interviewed and the interviewer in relation to their access to various discourses of age, gender, education, ethnicity and ideology in different interview situations can be important for increasing awareness of the role of these discourses. Various ways of constructing femininities and masculinities must be studied if we are to avoid ageism developing in society. Analyzing and reflecting on the importance of age, gender and ethnicity from a constructivist perspective may reduce stereotypical descriptions of the oldest old.
2007. , 55 p.
oldest old, gender, ethnicity, discourse, narratives, content analysis, Grounded Theory