Turning points in the lives of midlife and older women

Rosemary Leonard, Ailsa Burns

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    The study explored the turning points in their lives reported by 60 married or previously married lower-income midlife and older women (born 1931-1936, 1941-1946 and 1951-1956), and considered the importance of age and cohort effects. Following a life-review interview, respondents were asked to nominate the turning points in their lives. The turning points that were identified were classified as involving predominantly a role transition, an adversity, or an experience of personal growth. There were significant cohort differences in that the youngest cohort nominated significantly more adversities and the oldest cohort correspondingly fewer. In the total sample, role transitions and adversity turning points were most commonly experienced between the ages of 21 and 40 years, while personal development experiences increased after midlife. It is noted that the turning point approach allows respondents to select and prioritise their own significant life events, and these are not always those that are emphasised in the literature on ageing. In the present study, the most frequently reported turning points were not marriage or motherhood, as might be expected, but personal growth experiences involving psychological "self-work", such as deciding to become more independent or to change one's lifestyle. The next most common was the death of a relative or friend, which acted as a turning point in diverse emotional and philosophical ways. In contrast, issues that are a frequent topic of life event research, such as the "empty nest" or menopause, were rarely mentioned. Most importantly, the study findings highlight the importance of experiences - and in particular personal growth experiences - that occur in the second half of life.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)87-93
    Number of pages7
    JournalAustralian Psychologist
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 1999


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