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Bolder and Wiser: Remarkable conversations with older women, by Sarah Dale

by on February 11, 2014

We occasionally write blog posts under the heading of ‘Useful Reading’ when something passes over our desks which makes us reflect on the topic of age at work. We met Sarah Dale at a conference last year when she attended a presentation of our research. When she later asked us, we were very happy to agree to review her book Bolder and Wiser.

The book is an account of Sarah’s reflections (as she approaches 50) on a series of ‘remarkable conversations with older women’. Although she is a practising occupational psychologist and coach, Sarah’s approach is a personal – and very readable – one. Through her analysis of the interviews, she covers a range of topics that touch our lives: e.g. our social networks, money, appearance, domestic responsibilities and, of course, paid and voluntary work.

She (rightly, I think) identifies the women she interviews as belonging to a generation who have lived through some major social changes. These include access to higher education, paid work outside the home, and contraception. She argues for the difficulty in separating out ageing from gender issues and I was especially interested in her comment that ‘women in particular are still in the early stages of developing acceptable or desirable models of ageing’. In the language of discourse analysis, I would say that another way of looking at this is that there are only limited ‘subject positions’ available to older women in our society. There’s a small academic literature, for example, on how older women can be denied the female equivalent of the ‘wise old man’ identity. This book is an excellent contribution to exploring and widening the identities that older women might seek. Not only that, Sarah and her interviewees are very good company on the page, sharing their warmth and distilling wisdom from their lived experience from which we can all benefit.

In respect to work, Sarah highlights the importance of being ready to learn and develop – and in having a belief that you can do so – at all stages of life. This also involves being open to opportunities. She observes how ‘the impact that women can make through work is far from over’ in their fifties – and beyond. She suggests that, for this cohort of women, traditional notions of retirement have less resonance than they might do for men of similar age as the former have been pioneers in combining family and career. Again, this echoes recent research and, at a time when society needs to re-think retirement, the book offers useful ideas for both men and women.

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