Study on rural women: ‘If my husband dies before me, I would not stay here – I’d move’

Work, relationships and social activities are all affected by where someone lives, and a recent academic article looks at the role that living in a rural area has on women in both Ireland and Sweden.

The latest NUI Galway Whitaker Institute Policy Brief looks at an article by Alison Herbert entitled ‘What Role Does Rural Place Play in the Lives of Mid-Life Women in Sweden and Ireland?’

The academic article discusses how ‘rural place’ is a “significant influencer of the ageing and states of well-being experienced by older women”.

The article draws on two independent studies of 25 rural mid-life women (45 to 65-year-olds) in Connemara, Co. Galway, and 10 in Värmland, Sweden, that were done in recent years. The paper examined the influence of “gendered rural place” on these mid-life women.

‘A pathway to rural social isolation’

The academic article states that the data shows a “compelling need for a greater consideration of the critical and diverse role rural place plays in shaping women’s experiences of ageing and well-being both at mid-life and in older age”.

One participant, who is a native to Connemara, “underscored how climate and weather can become negative features of rurality and, when combined with diminished public transport, form a pathway to rural social isolation”.

“I would say we’re very isolated politically. We feel it here, especially during the two bad winters, even the bus couldn’t run. Then you feel isolated,” the 48-year-old said.

‘If my husband dies before me, I would not stay here’

The article said that in a few cases of participants in Connemara, they “strongly wanted to leave their rural place but could not secure agreement from their partners”.

One woman had moved with her husband from Co. Dublin to Connemara with their children. The children have now grown up and left home, leaving her feeling “very little attachment” to the area.

“The stresses here are a lot less than living in an urban environment with the traffic,” the 61-year-old acknowledged.

“It’s the clean air – we might have other problems, but we respect the environment.

“We have limited rubbish collection, so we compost, it influences how we live our lives and those of our children too – we grow our own veg.

But, if my husband dies before me, I would not stay here – I’d move. We have no public transport at all here and if I could no longer drive, I’d be trapped.

The briefing by the Whitaker Institute on this article notes that the studies drew “on the social representation model in which rurality becomes the meanings attached to it: rural becomes defined through the senses and aesthetics; such as slower pace of life, greater sense of space, and an increased sense of intimacy”.

“The Sweden study shows a marked appreciation of the environment and its biotic and abiotic qualities, which helped to bond rural women to place.

“Most participants of both studies self-identified as ‘rural women’, whether native to their area or in-migrant.”

Women in Sweden held ‘stronger affiliations’ to their rural environment

The women in the Sweden study held “stronger affiliations” to their rural environment. They “more purposely incorporated their natural environments in order to enhance feelings of well-being”.

In contrast, participants from the Ireland study praised Connemara’s qualities, such as healthy clean air, but mostly fell short of utilising their environments actively.

“There are likely to be a number of reasons for this, including a perception of busier working lives and less discretionary time among the Ireland participants, but also perhaps from sociocultural norms, including Sweden’s ‘outdoor’ ethos in comparison to that of Ireland.

“Crucially, Sweden’s participants anticipated relatively high well-being in older age in comparison to Ireland’s, attributable in the main to state supports for housing and health.”

The brief concludes that policymakers should consider “what constitutes the components of a positive rural place identity if they wish to encourage rural repopulation”.

“Policy must also address the rural issues that may negate strong place identity and attachment, including perceptions of social isolation from critical networks; geographic loneliness; and social exclusion from mainstream socioeconomic services.”