Gender Inequality

Gender Inequality

Gender, a quintessentially cross-cutting approach, is part of most of the research on ageing and old age conducted at INED. But gender is also a research question in itself and several projects propose analysing gender inequality at this stage of life from a comparative perspective and through life course analysis.

Men and women age differently, and retirement crystallises the inequalities that have accumulated over their lifetimes. Life pathways and key events are very different for men and women, and the socio-cultural environment (social protection systems, economic status, dominant values, etc.) is a major factor in disparities. Social gender relations are constructed differently in different countries, which produces varying degrees of gender inequality in old age. Assigned identities, social representations and economic positions are all important aspects of gender constructs. Old age and agents’ perceptions of old age are thus modelled differently according to gender.

Gender inequality, objective age and subjective age

M Bozon

This project considers two aspects of age: objective age (chronological age) and subjective age (individuals’ personal relationship with their age). While some gender inequalities in terms of objective age have already been measured by demographers (age at widowhood, age at grandparenthood, age when incapacities appear, etc.), our understanding of the subjective experience of age is limited.

The central aim of this project is to design and validate a new indicator: subjective age or perceived age. Old men and women’s highly differentiated experiences of age and the stages of life are a powerful indicator of how persistent gender inequality still is and how embedded in intimate experience. There has been little analysis of the factors that produce these inequalities, their internalisation and their consequences.

As well as measure any mismatches between the objective ages of men and women, we will examine the factors that lead men and women to identify with their age or not. This will involve, for example, measuring the degree of internalisation and acceptance of the social roles expected of one’s age and gender. A possible illustration will be the analysis of events experienced "out of sync", such as early or late grandparenthood, early widowhood, remaining late in the workforce, etc. Furthermore, despite demographic observations, menopause is still thought of as a critical age, specific to women. A longitudinal history of representations of that "physiological symptom" of age, drawing on medical knowledge and knowledge from other scientific and literary corpuses, will shed new light on the perception of female and male ageing and changing trends over time.

More broadly, we will seek to identify the references (events in personal life, state of health, social representations, etc.) that old men and women use to self-define as their age or not. Since social environment remains a fundamental determinant of behaviour at different ages, we will check if the mismatches between the objective and subjective ages of men and women are bigger in some social environments than in others. An exploratory survey on perceived ages of people aged 50 to 70 is planned for the end of 2011.

Quality of life of old European men and women: MAGGIE

P Festy, J Gaymu

Quality of life is a complex concept reflecting the interaction of many different types of factors - subjective, objective, individual and contextual. Currently, there is no consensus as to how to define and measure quality of life. The literature review nevertheless reveals a general agreement on the need to combine objective and subjective measures. In terms of subjectivity, being a man or a woman often plays an important differentiating role, since men and women do not necessarily have the same expectations. Four broad areas, considered essential to elderly people’s quality of life, will be analysed by the teams of the various partners in the project: mortality and health, family status and social integration, socio-economic position and institutionalisation. INED’s research - into geographical divergences in elderly men and women’s quality of life, taking account of all the aspects of this concept - cuts across the other teams’ research areas.

Life satisfaction is one of the subjective indicators of quality of life most commonly used by the scientific community. Yet, in most European countries, fewer old women than old men report being satisfied with their lives. We have sought to verify whether this was due to their different living conditions (in terms of state of health, family and economic statuses). Our analyses show that there is no single model: the factors influencing men and women’s satisfaction with life are not necessarily the same in all countries and under all circumstances. For example, while men and women who live with a spouse agree on the importance of their autonomy - both physical and material - men and women who live alone cite different factors.

It also emerges that women’s quality of life is more strongly modelled by the socio-cultural context than men’s. Between northern and southern Europe, women who live alone rank their sources of welfare very differently. As between men and women, contrasts appear within the female population, usually in the articulation between family roles and economic status. Those results illustrate how social gender relations, which are constructed differently in different countries, lead men and women not only to age differently throughout life but also to have different perceptions of the experience of their old age.

The comparison between elderly people’s objective living conditions and their perceptions will undergo several developments in the future. It will be extended to the self-evaluation of economic welfare, to the perception of the quality of family relations, etc. and conducted on cohorts of people in their fifties. The disparities between these men and women, who will be elderly tomorrow, could be quite different. Their priorities may also be quite different.

Multiple marriages, conjugality and gender relations

V Hertrich

Marital change in sub-Saharan Africa does not refer only to individualisation (emancipation from community control) but also to conjugality (constitution of a community of interests at the level of the couple). It is a function of that double viewpoint that the project addresses multiple marriages and the organisation of individuals’ marital pathways. Does the easing of marital pressure on young people have an equivalent among the elderly? How do women negotiate divorce and the norms of remarriage: is urban migration, currently practised by the youngest cohorts, also being used by older women as a way of putting pressure on their spouses or of avoiding remarriage? Do men also have strategies for coping with divorce? How do elderly women position themselves in relation to remarriage? Are men also distancing themselves from the injunction to care for widows?