The Other within Us: Feminist Explorations of Women and Aging

By Marilyn Pearsall | Go to book overview
Save to active project

of full and natural lives. I protest that presumption because "natural life span" and "tolerable death" are not gender neutral. Providing health services to the very old has been devalued, in part because medical intervention can dehumanize the natural end to one's natural life span. I wonder if that absence of value is not also due in large measure to the fact that there are few male competitors for these services. Couldn't we believe that, like other items in women's social history, when men move to evaluate something that is peculiarly the province of women, it then becomes devalued?

Given this social and moral context, woman's old age is not affirmed by setting limits; it is made invisible. Given this context, the deaths of older women will engender rage and despair. Given this context, appealing to an age standard will make the deaths of women premature in the fullest sense of the word. Not only will their deaths be sad, they will be a tragedy and an outrage.


I am especially grateful to my colleague Ferdinand Schoeman for the many helpful suggestions he made about various aspects of this discussion.

Older women now outnumber older men three to two. This represents a dramatic increase from 1960, when the ratio of elderly men to elderly women was five to four. Furthermore, the ratio changes markedly with increased age. The 1984 census found only 40 men for every 100 women at age 85, but 81 men for every 100 women between the ages of 65 and 69. By the year 2050, the projected life expectancy for females will reach 83.6 years as contrasted with a life expectancy for mates of 79.8 years.

The gender ratios are important for the further reason that they indicate that more women than men will be living alone in old age. Although more than one-third of all elderly disabled men living in their communities were cared for by their wives, only one in ten elderly disabled women were cared for by their husbands (Special Committee on Aging, 1985).

An obvious concern, and the concern that underlies Callahan's interest in examining medicine's goals for an aging society, is that the projected increase in the size of the older population implies correlative increases in the demand for health care resources and the provision of services to the elderly. In addition, elderly persons are more likely than other adults to be poor.

Moreover, the economic statistics are especially grim for elderly women. According to a study published in 1985 by the United States Senate's Special Committee on Aging, of those persons between the ages of 65 and 69, white males had a median income of $12,180 per year as compared to a median income of $5,599 for elderly women. Because they live longer than their male counterparts, elderly women average a longer period of retirement than elderly men and must, therefore, rely on private and public sources of income longer than elderly men. Not surprisingly, nearly three-quarters of the population of the elderly poor are women ( 1985, 2).

Although at present only about five percent of the elderly live in nursing homes, close to seventy-five percent of all nursing home residents have no spouse and are institutionalized because they have health problems that significantly limit their ability to care for


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Other within Us: Feminist Explorations of Women and Aging
Table of contents


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 280

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?