Ethno-cultural diversity in the experience of widowhood in later life: Chinese widows in Canada
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This paper utilizes Helena Znaniecka Lopata's concept of life frameworks as a lens through which to understand the experience of widowhood amongst elderly Chinese immigrant women living in Toronto, Canada. While Lopata defined life frameworks as including social supports, social relations and social roles, for these widows, personal resources (framed in Chinese cultural context) were also important aspects of life frameworks. In-depth interviews with 20 widows contacted through a Chinese community center were conducted in Mandarin and Cantonese and then transcribed and interpreted through team-based qualitative analyses. These women ranged in age from 69 to 93 years and had been in Canada an average of 17 years, with over half of them widowed following immigration. Our analysis framed the widows' narratives in terms of four types of supports defined by Lopata: social, service, financial and emotional supports. They had fairly extensive social and service supports focused primarily around family and the Chinese community. Although norms of filial piety traditionally dictate sons as primary supports, daughters predominated as providers of supports to these widows. Interpreted from a life course perspective, financial supports were deemed sufficient, despite overall limited financial means. Emotional support was more nuanced and complex for these widows. Loneliness and feelings of social isolation were prevalent. Nevertheless, themes of acceptance and satisfaction dominated our findings, as did reciprocity and exchange. The narrative accounts of these widows depict a complexity of experience rooted in their biographies as Chinese women and as immigrants, rather than primarily in widowhood itself.
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