Women's experiences of continuing development: Midlife reflections of community college students

Bettsy Morse McCoubrey, University of Pennsylvania


Studies of adult development, carried out largely in the masculine domain, have resulted in theories of human development that describe a linear progression toward the middle years, with expectations of increasing individuation and achievement in the external world into midlife. This study challenges linear, stage, and social constructivist theories of development based on men's lives by including women's experiences. In addition, the study questions the assumption of women's inherent affiliative nature that has limited the study of women by understating the basic human need for a continuously more articulated sense of self. In-depth, multi-case studies of 16 women, between the ages of 40 and 55 years, selected to represent racial/ethnic diversity, analyzed the critical influences described by participants during two to three hour interviews in which they were asked how they got the courage to change their lives by enrolling in an urban community college. The multiplicity of developmental pathways demonstrated the variability as well as the commonalities of experiences recounted as the participants constructed their life stories to give a logic to their decision. Recurrent themes include: (a) the continuing weight given to parental messages; (b) the discontinuities experienced between their preadolescent and adolescent sense of self; (c) the need and struggle during their 20's and 30's to build a "self-system" (Helson, 1992); (d) relationships as restrictive and/or conflictual more often than supportive and understanding; (e) the crucial importance in the direction their lives have taken of being women in a society dominated by men; (f) the variability of expressions of feeling powerful and lack of power and of strategies adopted toward empowerment. In addition, the findings suggest that the discourses of femininity, women, motherhood, relationship, identity, and power, which includes race/ethnicity and class differences, must be reframed to include women's developmental experiences and promote social equity.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Womens studies|Psychotherapy|Community colleges

Recommended Citation

McCoubrey, Bettsy Morse, "Women's experiences of continuing development: Midlife reflections of community college students" (1998). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9829944.