PhD Studentship "Identity transformations: Exploring single, older women’s adjustments to physical aging through participation in physical activity"

  • Worcester
  • 14th August 2018

Employer: University of Worcester
Reference: N/A
Bursary: £14,533 per annum
Contract type: Full time


Recent meta-analysis findings indicate that moderate intensity physical activity incorporating mental (e.g., memory, attention) as well as physical (e.g., coordination, balance) aspects, with additional opportunities for social interaction, provide the largest improvement in the activities associated with daily living of older adults (Roberts et al. 2017). 

However, nationwide surveys show physical activity (PA) declines with age with women being less active than men. Only 42% of women and 45% of men aged 65-74 were meeting UK PA guidelines (Health Survey for England 2016). Currently 3.5 million (32%) people aged 65+ live alone in the UK and nearly 70% of these are women (AgeUK 2016). 

These statistics are alarming especially when considering that life expectancy is continuously increasing and is still higher for women than men (Klenk et al. 2016). Some of the reasons for older women’s lack of PA include physical vulnerability, embarrassment, not belonging to a group and gender stereotypes causing women to lack confidence to pursue activities in later life (Barnett 2012; Crombie et al. 2004; O’Brien Cousins 2000). In addition, the experience of the changing body and related socio-cultural processes (perceptions of control, seeking reassurance, perceived helplessness) are influential to older women’s physical activity engagement and the process of re-establishing ontological security (Phoenix and Sparkes, 2009; Hudson et al. 2015; Giddens, 1990) Stryker and Burke (2000) emphasise how identity transformations are inextricably linked with emotions, self-perceptions, behaviour and self-presentation, and, arguably, selfpreservation. 

Individuals experience physical ageing in different ways and their changing identity is greatly affected by their histories, social interactions and gender. Carmichael et al. (2015) specifically alluded to the complexity of the age-activity relationship in older women. Given that existing research is inconclusive and healthy ageing is an emerging area of interest, it is important to further explore the process of changing identities and barriers affecting the (lack of) PA engagement of single, older women. 

This PhD seeks to address this directly through the following aims. 

Aim 1: To explore single, older women’s experience of ageing in relation to their identity and its transformation. 

Objectives: 1.1 Develop and conduct repeated semi-structured interviews with a varied sample of single, older women aged 65+ years; 

1.2 Explore participants’ personal histories in relation to sport/exercise/physical activity and gender; 

1.3 Focus on key transitional phases in participants’ lives to explore their coping mechanisms. 

Aim 2: To investigate why single older women are less physically active than recommended levels of physical activity. 

Objectives: 2.1. Understand and classify the barriers to physical activity participation reported within the semistructured interviews 

2.2. Uncover strategies to engage single older women in physical activity for potential use within webbased resources Indicative methodology A social constructionist approach will be adopted, focusing on the lived experiences of up to 20 participants (aged 65+) over a 12 month period through repeated semi-structured interviews. 

Purposeful sampling will recruit participants with recent or upcoming experience of life transitions, e.g., significant birthdays (70/80), retirement and bereavement. Narrative Inquiry will frame primary data production and through thematic analysis the PhD candidate would immerse themselves in the field and personal stories. 

To make sense of key themes, the PhD candidate would adopt an abductive approach to the analysis of narratives (see Sparkes & Smith, 2014). 

Entry requirements: 

Applicants should have, or be expected to achieve, a First or Upper Second (2.1) Honours degree by October 2018. A relevant Masters degree is desirable. 

Applicants should have a sound understanding of, and interest in psycho-social and cultural aspects of aging and physical activity. Specific areas include psychological individual differences, gender, identity, agency empowerment. 

Applicants should also have a sound understanding of aging (third and fourth age) in the UK context. 

Funding information: 

This is a three year studentship. The studentship provides a tax free bursary of £14,553 per annum for a period of 3 years, a fee-waiver for 4 years and access to the Research Student Support Scheme to cover costs and expenses related to your research. You are also provided with a laptop and use of the Research Student Study Space in the Research School. 

The start date is October 2018. Non-EU students would start the studentship in January 2019 to allow time to process a visa application. You will be expected to play an active role in the life of both the Research School and of the Institute of Sport and Exercise Science / Health and Society. You will be given opportunities to gain experience in learning and teaching within the Institute under the guidance of your Director of Studies. All applications should be made at

 Vacancy email address:


BASES stands for the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. BASES is the professional body for sport and exercise sciences in the UK.



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