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Men And Women From The Eldest To The Youngest: The Recomposition Of The Status Of Helper And Intergenerational Family Unity In Senegal

Sadio Ba Gning

Research Framework: Given the setting of weak institutional unity for the elderly, intergenerational family ties are now, more than ever, being challenged by a rapidly ageing population. Men and women are living longer lives that are marked by dependence. Though these intergenerational ties remain strong, they are expressed differently depending on gender and the generation of the elders in question—as well as their helpers. Within families, women play a pivotal role as the main providers of help whereas men are perceived as being the providers of funding.
Objectives: This article re-examines the traditional roles and the changes of status which occur between the elderly and their helpers as parents and in-laws. The first aspect of our research delves into the relationship between in-laws and their children of different genders. The second looks at the relationship involving parents and children of the same gender in a helper relationship.
Methodology: Our analysis is based on cross referenced ethnographic data that compares rural and urban areas in the north and south of Senegal. The data was collected via 70 interviews, 50 of which were conducted with elderly parents and 20 adult helpers. This qualitative sample is predominantly marked by women under the age of 60 though there were also three women over the age of 80. The women were either widows, remarried widows or married in polygamous households. The men ranged in age between 60 and 75 years of age, making up a third of the overall sample (eight individuals).
Results: The study showed a persistence of gender and generational inequality in the intergenerational unity. It highlights the temporality of progressive ageing and the differences between men and women as well as the new configurations of the helper status through the models of the active wife and needful elderly men. The modes of helping elderly parents, which are negotiated on a daily basis, have a tendency to be considered as either individual or couple strategies. Through the delegation of care activities and social and financial investments in family relations, active women bear the lion’s share of help and conflicting roles (mother, wife, step daughter, etc.) which compromise their status as a helper. To be recognized as such, these roles are not limited to a single close helper relationship for their own ageing parents as well as for their in laws. Men are also being encouraged to implicate themselves more than just financially despite family expectations remaining strong in this aspect.
Conclusion: Gender and intergenerational inequalities persist despite observed changes to the roles of helper. The elderly figure, still thought of as being male, reflects the pervasiveness of social norms related to behaviour despite the significant increase of women in the workforce.
Contribution: This research contributes to a better understanding of the recomposition of family unity and ageing from the perspective of gender and generational logic, taking into account the individual trajectories of couples and families as a whole.