Fiftysomething women – lifestyle and attitudes now and fifty years ago
It is not often, as a social scientist, that one has the pleasure of reporting on positive, encouraging aspects of human existence. Social scientists tend to focus mainly on the downside of life – dysfunction, deviance, drunkenness, disorder, delinquency, disease, divorce, drug-abuse. To redress the balance a bit, the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) was founded with the intention of studying positive aspects of human behaviour, lifestyles and social relations.
Even for SIRC, however, the findings of our Jubilee Women study came as something of a surprise. We were commissioned by HRT Aware to conduct research comparing the lifestyles of fiftysomething women now with those of women their age 50 years ago – with a particular focus on women's experiences of the menopause. An interesting project, and one that we approached with enthusiasm, but not really expecting to come up with any earth-shattering revelations.
Personally, I had never given much thought to the menopause, and if I thought about it at all, it was as something to be dreaded – an unpleasant experience in itself, leading to the even greater unpleasantness of official 'old age'. So I was somewhat taken aback when the findings of our focus groups and surveys came in, showing that, for most women, almost all aspects of life actually improve following the onset of the menopause. On question after question – whether we asked about careers, relationships, hobbies and interests, travel opportunities, energy levels, health and well-being, independence, and sex – the response was the same: for the majority of women, it gets better after the onset of the menopause.
The research reveals some interesting new worries about the disadvantages of living longer. But these could not overshadow the surprisingly positive findings: the lives and expectations of fiftysomething females are significantly better now than they were in the 1950s, and, on the whole, they improve with age. I had heard people say that 'life begins at 50', but as a scientist I needed evidence to believe such statements. Now I have some.
Kate Fox – Co-Director, Social Issues Research Centre – May 8 2002
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