Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

First Advisor

Martin S. Schwartz


In an effort to examine social organizational structures and support systems in the social world of the older lesbian woman, 73 self-identified lesbian women fifty years of age or older provided data on their personal interactions with the economic, political, educational, religious, social welfare and familial social systems of the heterosexual culture and the homosexual subculture. Results from this cross-sectional survey depict the sample as well educated, professional, financially secure, politically liberal women in good health who are selective with whom they reveal their sexual orientation. The knowledge of their lesbianism is shared more with female friends than with family members. While they are not terribly active members of the homosexual community, they are members of politically oriented and/or professionally related organizations. Although they utilize a variety of "helping" professionals, most reveal their sexual orientation to these professionals only if it is relevant to the helping process. Those sampled consider their formal education, ability to earn an adequate income, relationships with both heterosexuals and homosexuals and political activities important. They are involved with the heterosexual culture that provides them an education and a professional life as well as the homosexual subculture that provides them personal relationships and support.

The women sampled seek and get support in times of personal crisis from those who are aware of the older lesbian's sexual orientation. This includes primarily homosexual and heterosexual women friends and some immediate family members, but rarely men. The religious institution is not viewed as a place to seek support, and the economic institution is perceived as an acceptable place to be professionally employed, but is not generally utilized in times of financial crisis. The formal educational system and the political system are not particularly supportive of the lesbian lifestyle, and the social welfare system may or may not provide the older lesbian needed support in times of personal crisis. In sum, it is primarily within the context of relationships with other women that those surveyed gain support in times of crisis.


Scanned, with permission from the author, from the original print version, which resides in University Archives.


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