International Conference on Sports in Malmö, Sweden
April 8–12, 2010
Paper Presentation XI:
Gender, Sports and Generation – Children and Elderly People
Monday, April 12, 10.00–13.00

The role of gendered social structures in framing physical activity and sport of elderly people

Ilse Hartmann-Tews
German Sport University Cologne

Introduction There have been a variety of surveys regarding participation in physical activity and sports in the 1980s and 1990s indicating that elderly people are comparatively inactive. The traditional proposition ‘the older people are the less they are involved in physical activities and sport’ corresponds well with the ‘disengagement theory’ which has been prominent in psychology and sociology of ageing for a long period of time. However, recent surveys on social develeopment, health and participation in physical activity of the elderly indicate a growing amount of elderly people being involved in physical activities and sport.

Research questions Three questions will be put forward in this presentation: Firstly, do we identify the traditional gender gap in participation in sport and physical activities even in the age group of 55+? Secondly, what kind of explications can be identified for the development of physical activities during lifespan – and do the effects of chronological ageing, cohort experiences and cultural impact differ between women and men? Thirdly, in how far are social structures in general and that of sport organisations in particular framing a gendered choice of elderly people to start, continue or give up physical activities when growing older?

Research Design To answer the first question we made use of a secondary analysis of a longitudinal dataset. The additional empirical research design has been informed by the theoretical perspectives of social constructivism and theories reflecting the reciprocal process of social structure and agency. It combines two predominantly qualitative studies based on interviews with elderly people (N= 17, 55+) and heads of sport organisations (N=8) with a quantitative survey based on telephone interviews with about 514 elderly men and women (55+).

Results The secondary data analysis reveals a gender typical profile of sports participation during lifespan. Women’s development of being in-/active is more characterized by cohort and periodical effects, whereas men’s profile of participation in lifespan is more influenced by chronological age. The interviews and the survey reveal a high relevance of a variety of gendered social structures that frame and channel the decision to stay active, drop out or start (again) with a physically active lifestyle.

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