Chapters of our lives: Life narratives of midlife and older Australian women

Ailsa Burns*, Rosemary Leonard

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    16 Citations (Scopus)


    A narrative approach was used to explore whether women perceive their later years as a time of loss, stability, or gain, and the explanations they give for their perceptions. Life review interviews were held with 20 married or previously married mothers aged 60-65 living in lower-income suburbs of Sydney, Australia. Participants were asked to consider their life story as a book, to divide the book into chapters, and to entitle each chapter. Two types of gain narrative accounted for 70% of the stories: one (breakouts) described gains that resulted from the woman's own actions, and the other (stress relief) described gains from role changes and the passage of time. A further 20% described continuing contentment with their lives, and 10% of the accounts described later life in terms of losses. The findings suggest that one reason for the later life satisfaction regularly found by surveys of older adults may be the disappearance or diminishment of previous life stressors. As part of a planned cohort comparison, similar interviews were held with women aged 50-55 and 40-45. An additional category of ongoing stress was required to accommodate their narratives.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)269-277
    Number of pages9
    JournalSex Roles
    Issue number5-6
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2005


    • Aging
    • Life narratives
    • Midlife
    • Women


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