CHANGES IN THE TIMING OF FEMALE/FAMILY LIFE-CYCLE EVENTS: ON-TIME VS. OFF-TIME?

LINDA FALLO-MITCHELL, Fordham University

Abstract

The present study was conceived with a concern for the multiplicity of forces influencing the timing of major life events. Drawing on evidence to indicate that recent changes in the rhythm of the female/family life cycle provide support for the objective aspect of biological/historical change in the timing of women's life events, the present research attempted to document the existence of similar changes occurring on the subjective level (social time) of individual women. The goal, therefore, was to provide supportive evidence for subjectively perceived changes in preferred social timetables. The study also sought to clarify the extent to which such changes in actual timing are accompanied by newly defined social timetables, and further, how these changes vary from one generation to the next.^ Perceived age differences in the timing of women's life events were investigated by asking young adult, middle-aged, and old-aged women to respond to a self-report instrument designed to measure preferred social timetables. This measure was an extended and modified version of the Neugarten, Moore and Lowe (1965) Age Constraint Scale. Differences in perceptions were assessed under four instructional conditions, which called for personal, as well as generational, assessments. The generational assessments consisted of peer perceptions (women rated the preferences of their own generation) and heteroperceptions (women of one generation rated the preferred timetables of women of another generation).^ Participants were 80 young adult (20-30 years), 80 middle-aged (40-50 years), and 80 old-aged (60-70 years) women. The young adult sample was drawn from a college population in New York City. It was a largely unmarried sample in the process of completing and education. The middle-aged sample was contacted through a high school mothers' guild in New York City. These women were largely married, high school educated, housewives or secretarial/clerical workers. The old-aged sample was contacted through church-related neighborhood senior citizen centers in New York City. These women were primarily house-wives, married or widowed, and tenth-grade educated. Women in all age groups were white and of the Catholic religion. All participants were tested in large groups and instructional conditions were randomly assigned in all testing situations.^ A series of analyses of variance (item level, grouped item level, total score) provided partial support for the experimental predictions. The results provided strong support for generational differences in personally preferred timetables for the accomplishment of major life events. Young adult women preferred later ages for the accomplishment of family life events and earlier ages for the accomplishment of educational/occupational and general events than either middle- or old-aged women. Furthermore, women of different generations misperceived each others' personal preferences. Women in each age group believed that women in the other age groups would concur with their own choices when, in fact, they did not. The most pronounced differences were between the young adult and old-aged women. Significant differences were also obtained between current normative data on select family items and the personal preferences of women in the three age groups. The present sample of contemporary American women preferred later ages for marriage, the birth of the first child, and the birth of the last child than was indicated by current normative trends.^ The existence of differences in preferred or ideal timetables across generations of contemporary American women, suggests a number of problems that warrant further investigation; in particular, a comparative study of preferred patterns of timing for male life cycle events; examination of intracohort differences in preferred timetables; and the significance of deviant sequences or off-time patterns. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Developmental

Recommended Citation

LINDA FALLO-MITCHELL, "CHANGES IN THE TIMING OF FEMALE/FAMILY LIFE-CYCLE EVENTS: ON-TIME VS. OFF-TIME?" (January 1, 1980). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI8020059.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8020059

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