A qualitative analysis of older women's community participation over the life course




Titus-Love, Amber

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The composition of the older adult population in the United States is undergoing extensive changes. Estimates show a doubling of adults over 65 years and tripling of adults over 85 years by mid-century (Bernstein and Edwards 2008). Experts suggest an aspect of successful aging is community participation; however, Putnam (2000) warns of a decrease in community participation by the general population. In order to gain a better understanding of older women’s community participation, this study draws on a life course perspective, using semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 30 women over the age of 60 in a central Texas community. The study explores the patterns of community participation among these older women over the life course and the motivation behind community participation for these older women by examining four broad areas of community participation: volunteering, organizational membership, place of worship attendance/membership and voting/local government participation. Data demonstrate two major themes: continued involvement and commitment to service. Continued involvement was present in (1) childhood; (2) early adulthood; and (3) later adulthood. Commitment to service uncovered several sub-themes, including (1) someone asked them; (2) with duty and purpose; (3) actively; (4) with enthusiasm and a positive outlook; (5) with a commitment to the common good; and (6) barriers and discontinuation. Interviews reveal that the women tended to use a place of worship as a vehicle for community participation across the life course and that their participation tended to revolve around their children in early adulthood. In addition, cohort, age, and period effects impacted the women’s participation. Furthermore, a disconnect existed between the participatory activities of the women and the community problems the women identified as important. Implications are discussed in this study.



women's community, older women, older volunteers, voluntarism


Titus-Love, A. (2010). A qualitative analysis of older women's community participation over the life course (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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