Contemporary spinsterhood in Britain : gender, partnership status and social change
An increase in spinsterhood is one aspect of recent changes in family and household formation. Family change has been the focus of much academic and political attention, however there is little contemporary research on singleness. This thesis explores the experiences and meanings of contemporary spinsterhood, and considers the extent to which these have altered in the context of recent social change. Quantitative analysis of the British Household Panel Survey demonstrates that recent cohorts of men and women are experiencing longer periods of singleness prior to the formation of any residential partnership. This thesis explores the life histories of thirty-seven nevermarried single women aged between thirty-five and eighty-three, an age range permitting a consideration of continuities and changes in experiences of singleness over time. This sample included mothers who had 'opted into' solo motherhood via artificial insemination and adoption. The thesis utilised narrative analysis to consider participants' experiences of singleness in relation to social networks and caring relationships, education and employment experiences, and gendered subjectivities. The role of social and institutional contexts in shaping these women's choices and experiences is also considered. This exploration of the actualities of contemporary women's lives found that gender and partnership status continue to structure the possibilities and strategies available to women in both the private and the public sphere. However, their varying experiences also demonstrate significant material and cultural changes, enabling wider opportunities for some. These changes have implications for the practices and discursive possibilities for contemporary spinsters. This thesis considers the extent to which the new discourses and practices emerging in the context of wider social change contribute to a dismantling of normative female gender identities predicated on marriage and motherhood.