Empowerment and disempowerment: comparative study of afro-caribbean, asian and white british women in their third age

Project lead: Professor Mary Maynard

Research team

  • Professor Mary Maynard

  • Professor Haleh Afshar


September 2000 – January 2002


Professor Mary Maynard
Department of Social Policy and Social Work
University of York
York Y01 5DD

Tel: +44 1904 433486
Email: mm45@york.ac.uk


The number of ethnic group elders in the population is increasing, with the prediction that there will be a considerable change in the age profile of ethnic groupings in the future. Further, the proportion of older women to older men increases with age and more women than ever reach old age. However, neither ethnicity nor gender have featured highly in either social research or the concerns of policy makers. There has been little systematic primary research or analysis of the ways in which gender and ethnicity might interrelate and most studies tend to emphasise the problems experienced by those in later life, along with their associated social needs and dependence on social support.

This project seeks to explore the more positive aspects of later life, particularly those strategies and policies which might support successful ageing. While it does not minimise the real social and economic difficulties which may face many older people, its focus is on those who are not in desperate need and on what does or could contribute to the quality of their existence. The research comprises an analysis of British women from different ethnic groups, in order both to raise the profile of women and ethnic groups in ageing research and to compare intervention and support mechanisms and outcomes.

Aims and objectives

The aim of the study is to identify what older able-bodied women from differing ethnic groups prioritise in terms of quality of life and successful ageing and the implications of this for policy practice.

The objectives of the study are to:

  • Explore what they find rewarding and what debilitating

  • Analyse coping strategies and how these might be enhanced.

  • Consider the role of enablers and enabling practices – who might be said to enable whom and is enablement possible without imposing agendas?

  • Analyse the relationship between micro-, meso- and macro-practices in extending the quality of life.

  • Provide policy recommendations in the context of shared needs or differentiation across cultural groups.

Study design

The research will be conducted via semi-structured interviews with Afro-Caribbean, Asian (Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani) and white women, aged between 60 and 75 years of age, who are able-bodied (no significant impairment or disability) and not in formally paid employment. Attention will be paid to obtaining a balanced sample, taking account of socio-economic, housing and marital status. Consideration will also be given to differences in working and domestic patterns. However, the main emphasis will be on the trajectory of the women’s later lives, how they define and might begin to measure what, for them, would constitute an active and fulfilled existence. Methodological work concerning the ethics and practice of researching both differing ethnic groups and older people forms an integral part of the project.

Policy implications

The research will provide new data on what influences quality of life, forming a basis from which knowledge about successful ageing can develop. It will inform policy debates and developments, concerning the ageing profile of the population in Britain and in the West more generally, by focussing on what is empowering/disempowering, the kinds of social interventions (formal and informal) which are useful and the level (community/local/national) at which they work.