Research Article

DOI :10.26650/senectus.2023.1.1.0001   IUP :10.26650/senectus.2023.1.1.0001    Full Text (PDF)

One of the Parties of Social Relations: The Old Widow in the Countryside

İlknur YeşilMehmet Karakaş

In the literature, being widowed, old, female, and in the countryside are associated with a variety of disadvantages. However, no study in Turkish or English is encountered that focuses on analyzing the social support networks of elderly widowed women living in rural areas. The aim of this study is to examine the social relations elderly widows have by analyzing their perspectives on these relationships, the effects these relationships have on their lives and expectations, and their support networks. The qualitative research uses the phenomenological research design and was carried out in the villages of Çandır and Sarımehmetler affiliated with the Sütçüler District of Isparta Province in Turkey. The study group consists of 30 widows whose ages range between 59 and 90. The participants were selected using the maximum diversity sampling technique. A semi-structured interview form was used to collect the data. As a result of the descriptive analysis, widowhood was revealed to be a significant turning point in women’s lives. Widowhood has caused them to be deprived of social, economic, and psychological resources. Poverty, dependency, loneliness, and migration are among the changes experienced through widowhood. 

DOI :10.26650/senectus.2023.1.1.0001   IUP :10.26650/senectus.2023.1.1.0001    Full Text (PDF)

Sosyal İlişkilerin Taraflarından Biri: Kırsaldaki Yaşlı Dul Kadın

İlknur YeşilMehmet Karakaş

Literatürde dul olmak, yaşlı olmak, kadın olmak ve kırsalda olmak çeşitli dezavantajlarla ilişkilendirilmektedir. Ancak kırsal kesimde yaşayan yaşlı dul kadınların sosyal destek ağlarının analizine odaklanan Türkçe ve İngilizce bir çalışmaya rastlanmamıştır. Bu çalışmanın amacı, yaşlı ve dul kadınların sahip oldukları sosyal ilişkileri, bu ilişkilere olan bakış açılarını, bu ilişkilerin hayatlarına ve beklentilerine olan etkisini ve destek ağlarını analiz ederek incelemektir. Fenomenolojik araştırma deseninin kullanıldığı nitel araştırma, Türkiye’de Isparta ilinin Sütçüler ilçesine bağlı Çandır ve Sarımehmetler köylerinde gerçekleştirilmiştir. Çalışma grubu 30 dul kadından oluşmaktadır. Katılımcıların yaşları 59 ile 90 arasında değişmektedir. Katılımcılar maksimum çeşitlilik örneklem tekniği ile seçilmiştir. Yarı yapılandırılmış görüşme formu kullanılmıştır. Yapılan betimsel analiz neticesinde dulluğun kadınların hayatında önemli bir dönüm noktası olduğu ortaya çıkmıştır. Dulluk, sosyal, ekonomik ve psikolojik kaynaklardan yoksunluğa neden olmaktadır. Yoksulluk, bağımlılık, yalnızlık ve göç dulluk ile birlikte yaşanan değişimlerdendir. 


The percentage of the elderly population has increased dramatically in Turkey (Turkish Statistical Institute [TurkStat], 2022a), as in the rest of the world (World Bank [WB], 2022). The most important differentiation in the aging process are the differences in life expectancy with regard to gender. When associating this case with marital status as frequently encountered in Turkish society (TurkStat, 2022b), this situation means that women have years that need to cope with on their own after the death of men. For this reason, the concept of widowhood emerges as a significant conceptualization for elderly women in particular. In fact, the percentage of males aged 65+ who are widowed in Turkey is 11.4%, while this rate rises to 47.4% for elderly women (TurkStat, 2022a).

The place where life is maintained comes to mean the cultural values, norms, rules, and a life balance for the individual. The experience of aging is also linked to the locale, habitat, and the economic, social, and political relations that occur in a way that is tied to the locale (Şentürk, 2015). Rural to urban migrations have increased through the influence of the modern world (Arun & Çakıroğlu, 2011), and the percentage of the elderly in rural areas where living standards have not improved has increased (Arslan et al., 2018). Being in a rural area provides elderly individuals with advantages (Shenk & Christansen, 1997) and disadvantages (Coles, 2001).

As another topic emphasized in the study, social relation is the bond established through mutual interactions that creates meaning between those interacting (Canatan, 2016). The bonds that are maintained through relations between people of all ages are called social networks (Litwin, 2001). Social networks have positive contributions through many aspects such as individuals’ well-being (Barett & Lynch, 1999), quality of life, health status (Antonucci, 1986), life satisfaction (Anderson, 1983), and preservation of independence (Barett & Lynch, 1999; Kneale, 2012). A circular and hierarchical diagram is used when showing social networks and support relationships. The individual is at the center of the system formed from three concentric circles. Others find themselves placed in the circles according to the relationships they have with the individual. The closest circle is limited to the few people who are the hardest to do without (Kahn & Antonucci, 1980). The individuals in the middle circle, while not very close to the person of focus, are still important to them (Antonucci, 1986). Even if those in the outermost circle are not the first to come to mind, they are people who are valuable to the individual. The relationships with those people are likely to be roledependent and short-term (Nadoh et al., 2004). This mapping provides significant convenience in understanding social support relationships and the other social support models used in the literature. The research benefits from the convoy, task specificity, and hierarchical encounter models in order to understand the support networks of elderly widows who’ve been repositioned in society by having their old roles changed. 

Being old (Turner, 2017), being a woman (Sevak et al., 2003), being a widow (Osorio-Parraguez, 2013), and living in a rural area (Butler, 2002) have generally been associated in the literature with disadvantages such as neediness, dependency, poverty, vulnerability, and limited access to opportunities. Therefore, understanding the social worlds of elderly widows in rural areas is important. This research aims to analyze the perspective these individuals have toward their social networks, what they expect from the networks, and the effects social networks have on their lives. By examining social relations and understanding social expectations, coping, and social support, a cultural view is revealed regarding the interactions elderly widows in rural areas have with their surroundings. The research uses the qualitative research method as well as the phenomenological research design in order to understand the expressions of the individuals participating in the research. The research was carried out between June 4-29, 2019 in the Çandır and Sarımehmetler villages of Sütçüler District in Isparta province with 30 widowed women between the ages of 59 to 90 who were reached using the maximum diversity sampling technique to achieve the desired diversity. A semi-structured form was used in order for the participants being in-depth interviewed to be able to comfortably express themselves. The duration of the interviews varied between 15-45 minutes, and the finding were interpreted using descriptive analysis.

The main themes in the research are the relationships with family and neighbors, who are the people closest to the individuals in the contexts of kinship and distance. The sub-themes formed within the main theme of family relations focus on the participants’ relationships with their children, grandchildren, and siblings. The family can be said to largely shape the individuals’ social positions. Some participants mentioned having good relations with their elderly parents. Their relationships with their parents who are not in need of care continue at the social, economic, and psychological levels. The participants are seen to have actively established relationships with their adult children socially, psychologically, economically, and physically. The two parties can be argued to be sources of support for one another as well as ones who make decisions about each other’s lives. The children can additionally be said to be the first to take responsibility for their elderly parents. Their relations with their grandchildren are seen to be interpreted as generally good. Many of the participants were observed to answer this question smiling. The participants can be said to want be a part of their grandchildren’s lives, although they have few conversations and phone calls with the grandchildren than with their own children. Relationships formed through blood ties such as children and grandchildren are not easy to replace. Still, it’s also not impossible. Severed ties can be substituted, especially with other children or grandchildren. Sibling relations tend to decline with age. Individuals who transfer their energy and resources to their children or grandchildren generally have psychosocial relations with their siblings. Siblings are an alternative source of support in times of crisis and stress. Inheritance and dividing up property are the main problems in sibling relations.

The social environment involves neighbors who, while not family members, still have more or less of an influence on the individual’s life. Long-term neighborly relations in rural areas can be argued to mean a shared history with these people. Neighborly relations can be said to be affected by various life events and daily relationships. Cases where these relations are not good can be stated to cause unhappiness in terms of the individuals. These relations can be claimed to continue at the psychosocial support level, as in relationships with siblings. Despite having hierarchical ties, however, a strict stratification can be claimed to not be possible when dealing with family and neighbors. As a result, the elderly widowed female participants who live in rural areas can be said to want to continue being a part of their social networks by doing their part.

Individuals can be said to take good relationships as a reference while forming relationship hierarchies. Again, the relationships that people who are further from the individual in the relationship circle have with the individual can be claimed to be impacted by the attitudes of those who are closer to the individual. Different arrangements of the relationship circles are also observed to have been made. Despite the relationship circle being functional, it cannot provide detailed information. Unique relationship circles should be created for individuals instead of just writing a three-part descriptions for everyone. Individuals should establish their relationship hierarchy on their own. Therefore, the presence of expanding multiple circles needs to be mentioned again by emphasizing on more time that the circles are centered around the individual.

Parent-child relationships are prominent in matters that require more energy and sacrifice, such as with care and economics. However, grandchildren, siblings, and neighbors are sources of support for tasks that can be paid right away. Therefore, the one being called for help varies in accordance with the topic, as stated in the task specificity model (Cantor, 1979). The person being called may also vary according to the situation, environment, or time in addition to the task. Therefore, the concept of the situation-specific relation model can be used in place of the task specificity model for a broader conceptualization. 

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Published Online20.03.2023


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