Communications Project

Document Type:Master's Thesis
Name:Karla S. Soukup
Title:Choice, Chance, or Circumstance: A Qualitative Study of Never-Married and Once-Married Women's Marriage Beliefs in Midlife
Degree:Master of Science
Department:Family and Child Development
Committee Chair: Katherine Allen
Committee Members:Rosemary Blieszner
Michael Sporakowski
Keywords:single women, marriage beliefs, midlife, life course, feminist perspective
Date of defense:April 15, 1998
Availability:Release the entire work for Virginia Tech access only.
After one year release worldwide only with written permission of the student and the advisory committee chair.


Although previous research on singlehood has often focused on middlfe-class career women, little is known about the life experiences of non-career path single women. This study examined the core marriage beliefs of never-married and once-married child-free, midlife women and the ways in which those beliefs have evolved over time. The sample consisted of 10 women, 5 never-married and 5 once-married between the ages of 35 and 48. For the purposes of this inquiry, non-career path was codetermined on the basis of occupation and educational background.

The theoretical framework that guided this study combined a life course approach with a feminist perspective. Respondents were recruited through extensive networking and the sampling technique of snowballing. A qualitative methodology was employed utilizing the research strategy of in-depth interviewing. Data were analyzed on the basis of emergent themes and patterns.

This study produced 3 salient findings. First, the process of forming core marriage beliefs is similar between never- married and once-married women. Although an experience of marrying (or an experience of not marrying) may change the way a woman views herself within the context of her marital beliefs, those core marital beliefs do not necessarily change. Second, whether never-married or once-married, single midlife women live ambivalent lives: acknowledging their singlehood status while simultaneously remaining hopeful of attaining a marital union. Finally, women made a clear distinction between getting married and marrying successfully. While most believed that getting married was a choice, having a successful marriage was a result of chance. Despite this appraisal, the ideal of marriage remained pervasive regardless of age or past experience.

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