Love in later life: old age, marriage and social research in mid-twentieth-century Britain

Charlotte Maree Greenhalgh

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


Historians have made youthful rites of passage central to the story of twentieth-century companionate marriage, which was apparently pioneered by young men and women who attended youth clubs and engaged with the path-breaking cultural projects of marriage counsellors, pornographers, and second-wave feminists. Yet this chapter suggests that mid-century changes to married life had as much to do with pensions policy as they did with popular entertainment, and probably hinged on ill health more often than on radial gender politics. This is not to discredit the mechanisms for change that influenced youth - large numbers of Britons went to the movies, went dancing, drove in motorcars, and consulted marriage counsellors - but rather to suggest that the bright lights of mid-century affluence, and consumer culture in particular, may have blinded us to less glamorous facets of mid-century experience that were equally significant. In particular retirement, which became a common experience for manual workers in the 1950s, allowed men to spend more time in the home with their wives and changed older couples routines of housework, socialising, and communication. The ill health and poverty that frequently accompanied this experience forced older men and women to rearrange their habits of work and social life, sometimes overturning gendered expectations that had been honoured for almost a lifetime. At the same time, older men and women s support of one another through physical care and story telling revealed the depth of feeling that characterised many marriages in their closing years. While old age was not always a happy experience, love in later life has certainly more intense, complex, and bittersweet than historians, or mid-century social and psychological theorists, have managed to describe.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLove and Romance in Britain, 1918-1970
EditorsAlana Harris, Timothy Willem Jones
Place of PublicationBasingstoke Hampshire UK
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Pages144 - 160
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9781137328625
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Cite this