Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 3–4, pp 200–217 | Cite as

Narratives of Israeli Women in Retirement: Rewriting the Gender Contract

  • Nitza BerkovitchEmail author
  • Shlomit Manor
Original Article


In the present study, we analyze how older Israeli women narrate, make sense of, and negotiate their lives after retirement. By center-staging women in their life periods of after-care work and paid work, we join emerging feminist research that aims at correcting the middle-age bias in gender studies and the gender bias in retirement studies. We conducted semi-structured in-depth interviews with 20 Israeli Jewish heterosexual women of varied class backgrounds who retired in the last 10 years. Conceptualizing retirement as an embedded experience and using the concept of gender contract as an analytical tool, we highlight how retired women employed two contradictory discourses, familial and individualistic, both prominent in the Israeli context, to renegotiate and rewrite the gender contract. They did so by constituting themselves as autonomous and independent subjects whose past devotion to others alongside their arduous labor has granted them the right to space and time of their own. They also redefine their maternal role so they keep their motherly duties to help “as much as needed” but on their own terms. Our study shows that putting older women at the center requires rethinking existing concepts. It reveals that individualism as a meaning system is not relevant to all equally, rather it depends on the intersection of a person’s gender with stage in life, and that the gender contract varies not only by geographical and social location but also across the life-course.


Retirement Individualism Marital relations Gender contract Israel Grandmothers, motherhood 



We would like to thank Catherine Rottenberg for her thorough reading and insightful comments on the various versions of the present paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The research involved human participants. We complied with all ethical standards and ensured that accepted principles of ethical and professional conduct have been followed.

We have obtained informed consent from the participants. At the start of each interview, it was emphasized that the interview was solely for the purpose of research; the aim of the research was explained to the interviewees, and they were promised that their anonymity and privacy would be diligently protected. In addition, they were told that they could stop the interview at any point, and that if they regretted their decision during or at the end of the interview, no use would be made of the recorded materials.

The research has been approved by the Collegiate Ethics Committee.

All participants were given pseudonyms to protect their identity.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest

Supplementary material

11199_2018_918_MOESM1_ESM.doc (38 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 37.5 kb)


  1. Adler, N., & Izraeli, D. (1988). Women in management worldwide. Armonk, NY: Sharpe.Google Scholar
  2. All Rights. (2017, August 2). All Rights is a partial translation of Kol Zchut, the leading site about rights and entitlements in Israel.
  3. Atchley, R. C. (1992). Retirement and marital satisfaction. In M. Szinovacz, D. Ekerdt, & B. H. Vinick (Eds.), Families and retirement (pp. 45–158). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  4. Barnes, H., & Parry, J. (2004). Renegotiating identity and relationships: Men and women's adjustments to retirement. Ageing and Society, 24(2), 213–233. Scholar
  5. Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  6. Beck, U., & Beck-Gernsheim, E. (1995). The normal chaos of love. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  7. Berk, S. F. (1985). The gender factory: The apportionment of work in American households. New York and London: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berkovitch, N. (1997). Motherhood as a national mission: The construction of womanhood in the legal discourse in Israel. Women’s Studies International Forum, 20(5–6), 605–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berkovitch, N. (1999). From motherhood to citizenship: Women’s rights and international organizations. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bianchi, S., & Milkie, M. A. (2010). Work and family research in the first decade of the 21st century. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 705–725.
  11. Biggs, S. (2005). Beyond appearances: Perspectives on identity in later life and some implications for method. Journal of Gerontology, 60(3), 118–128. Scholar
  12. Birkett, H. (2013). The embedded nature of the retirement experience: A life course study. Birmingham: University of Birmingham.Google Scholar
  13. Borrero, L., & Kruger, T. (2015). The nature and meaning of identity in retired professional women. Journal of Women & Aging, 27(4), 309–329. Scholar
  14. Byles, J., Tavener, M., Robinson, I., Parkinson, L., Smith, P. W., Stevenson, D., … Curryer, C. (2013). Transforming retirement: New definitions of life after work. Journal of Women & Aging, 25(1), 24–44.
  15. Calasanti, T. M. (1993). Bringing in diversity: Toward an inclusive theory of retirement. Journal of Aging Studies, 7(2), 133–150. Scholar
  16. Calasanti, T. M. (1996). Gender and life satisfaction in retirement: An assessment of the male model. Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 51, S18–S29. Scholar
  17. Calasanti, T. M., Loretto, K. F., & King, N. (2006). Ageism and feminism: From “et cetera” to center. NWSA Journal, 18(1), 13–30.
  18. Carlson, B. E., & Videka-Sherman, L. (1990). An empirical test of androgyny in the middle years: Evidence from a national survey. Sex Roles, 23(5–6), 305–324. Scholar
  19. Creswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  20. Davey, A., & Szinovacz, M. E. (2004). Dimensions of marital quality and retirement. Journal of Family Issues, 25(4), 431–464. Scholar
  21. Denzin, N., & Lincoln, S. (2008). Strategies of qualitative inquiry (Vol. 2). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  22. Dorfman, L. T. (2002). Retirement and family relationships: An opportunity in later life. Generations, 26(2), 74–79.
  23. Duberley, J., Carmichael, F., & Szmigin, I. (2014). Exploring women’s retirement: Continuity, context and career transition. Gender, Work and Organization, 21(1), 71–90. Scholar
  24. Ekerdt, D. (1986). The busy ethic: Moral continuity between work and retirement. The Gerontologist, 26(3), 239–244. Scholar
  25. Evetts, J. (2000). Analyzing change in women’s careers: Culture, structure and action dimensions. Gender, Work and Organization, 7(1), 57–67. Scholar
  26. Evetts, J. (Ed.). (2014). Women and career: Themes and issues in advanced industrial societies. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Ferree, M. M. (1990). Beyond separate spheres: Feminism and family. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52(4), 866–884.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fogiel-Bijaoui, S. (2002). Familism, postmodernity and the state: The case of Israel. The Journal of Israeli History, 21(1–2), 38–62. Scholar
  29. Fogiel-Bijaoui, S., & Rutlinger-Reiner, R. (2013). Introduction: Rethinking the family in Israel. Israel Studies Review, 28(2), vii–xii.
  30. Forsberg, G. (1998). Regional variations in the gender contract. Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 11(2), 191–209. Scholar
  31. Frenkel, M. (2008). Reprogramming femininity? The construction of gender identities in the Israeli hi-tech industry. Gender, Work and Organization, 15(4), 352–374. Scholar
  32. Frenkel, M. (2014). Toward a multi-layered glocalization approach: States, multinational corporations, and the transformation of gender contracts. In G. S. Drori, M. A. Höllerer, & P. Walgenbach (Eds.), Global themes and local variations in organization and management perspectives on glocalization (pp. 133–145). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. Frenkel, M. (2016). Between gender contracts, economic crises and work-family reconciliation. In A. J. Pugh (Ed.), Beyond the cubicle: Insecurity culture and the flexible self (pp. 229–253). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Friedman, A. (1993). Getting powerful with age: Changes in women over the life cycle. In Y. Atzmon & D. N. Izraeli (Eds.), Women in Israel (Vol. 6, pp. 183–192). New Brunswick: Transaction Books.Google Scholar
  35. Galili, Y., & Mizrachi-Tavivian, M. (2004). The pension system: A comparative perspective. Jerusalem: The Knesset Information Research Center.Google Scholar
  36. Gerson, K. (1985). Hard choices: How women decide about work, career and motherhood. Berkley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  37. Giele, J. Z. (2006). The changing gender contract as the engine of work-and-family policies. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, 8(2), 115–128. Scholar
  38. Giorgi, A. (1997). The theory, practice, and evaluation of the phenomenological method as a qualitative research procedure. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 28(2), 235–260.
  39. Gottfried, H. (2000). Compromising positions: Emergent neo-fordisms and embedded gender contracts. The British Journal of Sociology, 51(2), 235–259. Scholar
  40. Grenier, A. (2007). Crossing age and generational boundaries: Exploring intergenerational research encounters. Journal of Social Issues, 63(4), 713–728.
  41. Han, S. K., & Moen, P. (1999). Work and family over time: A life course approach. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 562(1), 98–110. Scholar
  42. Hatch, L. R. (1992). Gender differences in orientation toward retirement from paid labor. Gender and Society, 6(1), 66–85. Scholar
  43. Hays, S. (1998). The cultural contradictions of motherhood. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Hennessy, J. (2009). Morality and work–family conflict in the lives of poor and low-income women. The Sociological Quarterly, 50(4), 557–580. Scholar
  45. Herzog, H. (2004a). Family-military relations in Israel as a genderizing social mechanism. Armed Forces & Society, 31(1), 5–30. Scholar
  46. Herzog, H. (2004b). Women in Israeli society. In U. Rebhun & C. Waxman (Eds.), Jews in Israel: Contemporary social and cultural patterns (pp. 195–220). Hanover, MA: Brandeis University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Hochschild, A. (1989). The second shift: Working parents and the revolution at home. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  48. Izraeli, D. N. (1992). Culture, policy, and women in dual-earner families in Israel. In S. Lewis, D. N. Izraeli, & H. Hootsmans (Eds.), Dual-earner families—International perspectives (pp. 19–45). London: Sage Publication.Google Scholar
  49. Izraeli, D. N. (1993). Work/family conflict among women and men managers in dual-career couples in Israel. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 8(3), 371–388.Google Scholar
  50. Jacobs, J. A. (1992). Women’s entry into management. Administrative Science Quarterly, 37(2), 282–301.
  51. Kim, J. E., & Moen, P. (2002). Retirement transitions, gender, and psychological well-being: A life-course, ecological model. The Journals of Gerontology Series B, 57(3), 212–222. Scholar
  52. Krekula, C. (2007). The intersection of age and gender: Reworking gender theory and social gerontology. Current Sociology, 55(2), 155–171. Scholar
  53. Kulik, L. (2001a). Marital relations in late adulthood, throughout the retirement process. Ageing and Society, 21(4), 447–469. Scholar
  54. Kulik, L. (2001b). The impact of men’s and women’s retirement on marital relations: A comparative analysis. Journal of Women & Aging, 13(2), 21–37. Scholar
  55. Kulik, L. (2002). Equality in marriage, marital satisfaction, and life satisfaction: A comparative analysis of pre-retired and retired men and women in Israel. Families in Society, 83(2), 197–208. Scholar
  56. Lambert, S. J. (1990). Processes linking work and family: A critical review and research agenda. Human Relations, 43(3), 239–257. Scholar
  57. Lavee, Y., & Katz, R. (2003). The family in Israel: Between tradition and modernity. Marriage & Family Review, 35(1–2), 193–217. Scholar
  58. Lemaster, P., Delaney, R., & Strough, J. (2015). Crossover, degendering, or…? A multidimensional approach to life-span gender development. Sex Roles, 76(11–12), 669–681. Scholar
  59. Leopold, T., & Skopek, J. (2015). Convergence or continuity? The gender gap in household labor after retirement. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 77(4), 819–832. Scholar
  60. Lewis, S., Izraeli, D. N., & Hootsmans, H. (Eds.). (1992). Dual-earner families—International perspectives. London: Sage Publication.Google Scholar
  61. Loe, M., & Johnston, D. K. (2016). Professional women “rebalancing” in retirement: Time, relationships, and body. Journal of Women & Aging, 28(5), 418–430. Scholar
  62. Loretto, W., & Vickerstaff, S. (2013). The domestic and gendered context for retirement. Human Relations, 66(1), 65–86. Scholar
  63. Lowenstein, A., & Ogg, J. (2003). OASIS: Old age and autonomy: The role of service systems and intergenerational family solidarity–final report. Haifa: The Center for Research and Study of Aging.Google Scholar
  64. Maykut, P., & Morehouse, R. (1994). Beginning qualitative research: A philosophic and practical guide. London: The Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  65. McCormack, C., Cameron, P., Campbell, A., & Pollock, K. (2008). “I want to do more than just cut the sandwiches”: Female baby boomers seek authentic leisure in retirement. Annals of Leisure Research, 11(1–2), 145–167. Scholar
  66. Meisenbach, R. J. (2010). The female breadwinner: Phenomenological experience and gendered identity in work/family spaces. Sex Roles, 62(1–2), 2–19. Scholar
  67. Moen, P., Kim, J. E., & Hofmeister, H. (2001). Couples’ work/retirement transitions, gender, and marital quality. Social Psychology Quarterly, 64(1), 55–71. Scholar
  68. National Insurance Institute of Israel. (2017, August 1). State of Israel question-and-answer site for the National Insurance Institute.
  69. Patton, M. (1990). Purposeful sampling. Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods, 2, 169–186.Google Scholar
  70. Peres, Y., & Katz, R. (1981). Stability and centrality: The nuclear family in modern Israel. Social Forces, 59(3), 687–704. Scholar
  71. Pfau-Effinger, B. (2004). Socio-historical paths of the male breadwinner model - an explanation of cross-national differences. British Journal of Sociology, 55(3), 377–399. Scholar
  72. Powell, G., & Graves, L. (2003). Women and men in management. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  73. Price, C. A. (2000). Women and retirement: Relinquishing professional identity. Journal of Aging Studies, 14(1), 81–101. Scholar
  74. Price, C. A., & Nesteruk, O. (2010). Creating retirement paths: Examples from the lives of women. Journal of Women & Aging, 22(2), 136–149. Scholar
  75. Price, C. A., & Nesteruk, O. (2015). What to expect wehen you retire: By women for women. Marriage & Family Review, 51(5), 418–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Quéniart, A., & Charpentier, M. (2012). Older women and their representations of old age: A qualitative analysis. Ageing and Society, 32(6), 983–1007. Scholar
  77. Reitzes, D. C., & Mutran, E. J. (2006). Lingering identities in retirement. The Sociological Quarterly, 47(2), 333–359. Scholar
  78. Richardson, V. E. (1999). Women and retirement. Journal of Women & Aging, 11(2–3), 49–66. Scholar
  79. Rudman, D. L. (2006). Shaping the active, autonomous and responsible modern retiree: An analysis of discursive technologies and their links with neo-liberal political rationality. Ageing and Society, 26(2), 181–201. Scholar
  80. Russell, C. (2007). What do older women and men want? Gender differences in the ‘lived experience’ of ageing. Current Sociology, 55(2), 173–192. Scholar
  81. Sa’ar, A. (2009). Low-income “single moms” in Israel: Redefining the gender contract. The Sociological Quarterly, 50(3), 450–473. Scholar
  82. Sa’ar, A. (2016). The gender contract under neoliberalism: Palestinian-Israeli women's labor force participation. Feminist Economics, 23(1), 54–76. Scholar
  83. Silver, C. B. (2003). Gendered identities in old age: Toward (de) gendering? Journal of Aging Studies, 17(4), 379–397. Scholar
  84. Slevin, K. F., & Wingrove, C. (1995). Women in retirement: A review and critique of empirical research since 1976. Sociological Inquiry, 65(1), 1–21. Scholar
  85. Solomon, C. R., Acock, A. C., & Walker, A. J. (2004). Gender ideology and investment in housework: Postretirement change. Journal of Family Issues, 25(8), 1050–1071. Scholar
  86. Spilerman, S., & Elmelech, Y. (2003). Israeli attitudes about inter vivos transfers. In V. L. Bengtson & A. Lowenstein (Eds.), Global aging and its challenge to families (pp. 175–195). New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  87. Super, D. E., & Šverko, B. E. (1995). Life roles, values, and careers: International findings of the work importance study. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  88. Szinovacz, M. (1991). Women and retirement. In B. Hess & E. Markson (Eds.), Growing old in America (pp. 293–303). New Brunswick: Transaction Books.Google Scholar
  89. Szinovacz, M., & Ekerdt, D. J. (1996). Families and retirement. In R. Blieszner & V. H. Bedford (Eds.), Aging and the family: Theory and research (pp. 375–400). Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  90. Szinovacz, M. E., & Schaffer, A. M. (2000). Effects of retirement on marital conflict tactics. Journal of Family Issues, 21(3), 367–389. Scholar
  91. Tarrant, A. (2014). Negotiation multiple positionalities in the interview setting: Researching across gender and generational boundaries. The Professional Geographer, 66(3), 493–500. Scholar
  92. Wharton, A. S. (2012). Work and family in the 21st century: Four research domains. Sociology Compass, 6(3), 219–235. Scholar
  93. Williams, J. (2000). Unbending gender: Why family and work conflict and what to do about it. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  94. Winston, N. A., & Barnes, J. (2007). Anticipation of retirement among baby boomers. Journal of Women & Aging, 19(3–4), 137–159. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeer ShevaIsrael
  2. 2.Department of SociologyWestern Galilee CollegeAkkoIsrael

Personalised recommendations