Master of Science
This thesis seeks to better understand the trend toward mature women college students as impacted by the gender division of labor. It is based on qualitative research involving in-depth, semi-structured interviews with ten African-American and eleven white mature women students age 30 and over enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University.
The interview questions focus on two main decision points in the lives of mature women students. The first is defined as the point at which they chose a course of action, other than attending college, after high school, or when they left college. The second is defined as the point at which these women decided to (re)enter college.
The gender division of labor is explored as it exists in capital patriarchal society and emphasis is placed on the processes by which it is created and maintained at both macro and micro levels. The focus of the research is on the connection between the structure of the gender division of labor and the processes through which it affects individual lives in everyday, personal ways.
The focus on the two decision points leads the analysis of the trend toward mature women students in a direction not taken by other researchers and helps to uncover aspects of the trend which had been neglected. The findings suggest that the designation of domestic and childcare tasks to women in the gender division of labor greatly affects the trend toward mature women students at both decision points. The gender division of labor becomes a lived reality in individual women's lives and influences their decisions concerning work, family and education. The findings suggest further that the explanations for the trend toward mature women students are much more complex than current literature reflects. For the women who participated in this research, the gender division of labor creates power differentials between women and men which affect women's decisions concerning college which have not been explicitly addressed in other research.
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