Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 May 2015
In this chapter, we introduce the fifteen participants in our study who were already living alone when they entered our case study sample in their later seventies. These were predominantly women. In fact only one woman among our twenty-three female cases (Dora Meadows, see Chapter 4) predeceased her husband. In contrast, eight of our seventeen men predeceased their wives. As already mentioned in Chapter 3, all of our participants had been married at some point in their lives. In fact, it is possible to differentiate between them in terms of the period of their life when their spouses died or in a few cases separated from them. A significant minority of our women had begun living alone well before the standard age of retirement, sometimes even in early adulthood.
Widowhood has been a common experience for women in European and other societies, and concern for the financial plight of widows in particular has been a prominent feature of the work of religious bodies in earlier historical periods and for welfare organisations in modern times. Nevertheless, support from children has always been and remains the major resource widowed older people can draw on. But with smaller families and the greater mobility of children, the family has become a declining resource for supporting persons in old age. Our participants, born mainly in the early twentieth century, varied considerably in the size and spread of the families they had generated, and the consequences are evident in the character of their contacts in later life. Some of those ageing alone lived lives that were closely interrelated with that of their children's families and received strong practical as well as emotional support from them after their spouses died. There were others whose lives remained in practical matters at least independent of children or other members of their family.
The greater part of the chapter therefore deals with eleven older women who had been living alone since before age seventy-five years.