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New intimate relations in later life

- changing forms of intimacy in late modern society

In the first qualitative interview study (2010-2012), financed by The Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Resarch (2009-0720) we have done qualitative interviews with 28 Swedes, 63—91 years, who have established a new intimate heterosexual relationship after 60 (married, cohabiting or living apart together) or who are dating singles.

The qualitative interview study

In family sociology it is often argued that in late modern societies intimacy has been liberated from its reproductive function and is consequently no longer associated with any particular period in life. Similarly, in social gerontology it has been argued that the extension of the healthy life span has created a "third age" of self realization in which intimate relationships may play an important part. In Sweden today there are over one million single people (never married, divorced, widowed), 60 years or older, the majority of which are women, and the proportion of divorced older people is increasing. People live longer lives and new generations with potentially new values grow into old age. Despite these historical trends very little research, in Sweden as well as internationally, has studied new intimate relationships in old age and the role they play in the life older people.

The purpose of the present research project is to study: a) attitudes to, b) expectations of, and c) experiences of new intimate relationships in later life. We will study these questions both from a gender and a biographical perspective. The project will be carried out through qualitative interviews with a strategically selected sample of 60-90 year old men and women with experiences of different forms of new relationships in old age (new marriage, cohabitation, "living apart together", random sexual contacts, same sex relationships etc.). The study will help to make visible new forms of intimacy among older people and the role that these relationships play for their quality of life. Furthermore, it will give suggestions as to how care and support for older people is, and will be, structured in late modern society.

A quantitative survey

The second quantitative study (2012-), financed by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ P11-0909:1)) is planned to be carriied through in 2012.

Despite claims in family sociology of the release of intimacy from birth giving functions in late modern societies, thus not restricting intimacy to any certain period of life, and despite claims in social gerontology of the development of a Third Age of self realisation as a consequence of an increased healthy life-span in which intimate relations may have a significant impact, very little Swedish as well as international research has focused on new intimate relations in later life and their significance for older people´s lives. Besides, according to changing demographical conditions people live longer and new generations with potential new values are growing old. Among people 60+ in Sweden today more than a million are singles (never married, divorced, widows/widowers), a majority are women and the number and proportion of divorcees is increasing. The purpose of this project, based on a representative stratified sample of 3 000 60-90-year old Swedes, is to study attitudes to, expectations on, and experiences of new intimate relations in later life. This will be studied in the older population generally and in different groups defined on the basis of gender, class, lifecourse phase, sexual orientation, degree of urbanization and career of intimacy. The study will elucidate the role of new intimate relations for older people´s quality of life, and structures of informal support for older people in late modern society.


Torbjörn Bildtgård is Associate Professor in Sociology at Stockholm University, Sweden. Torbjörn has published mainly within two research areas – Food and Meal Studies and Social Gerontology.

Peter Öberg is Professor in Social work, at the Faculty of Health and Occupational Studies, University of Gävle, Sweden. He has devoted his academic career to social gerontology and he is currently Editor in Chief for The International Journal of Ageing and Later Life.

Published by: Zara Lindahl Page responsible: Magnus Isaksson Updated: 2017-02-09
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