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Recognition of the greater capacity of older women to draw on supportive social networks has now supplemented an earlier focus of research into gender and ageing which portrayed older men as a ‘privileged gerontocracy’ because of their greater access to financial resources and spousal care. This study of the experiences of cancer among people of three different age groups conducted a comparative keyword analysis of their narratives to consider the gender differentiation of a third resource: access to medical information and personnel. The analysed narratives were sampled from a large archive of research interviews. It was found that older men with cancer demonstrated a greater involvement with medicine as an expert system than younger men or women or older women. This stemmed from their social confidence when interacting with doctors and their interest in treating their illness as a ‘problem’ to be fixed with medico-scientific solutions. Compared with younger men and women of all ages, older men were less likely to draw on informal social and family networks for support, or to discuss in a direct style the emotional dimension of illness experience. Our findings contrast with other studies that have reported linguistic disadvantage in older people in elderly care settings, which underlines the importance of context for linguistic studies.
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