Family health narratives: midlife women's concepts of vulnerability to illness.

Antje Lindenmeyer, Frances Griffiths, Eileen E Green, Diane Thompson, Maria Tsouroufli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Perceptions of vulnerability to illness are strongly influenced by the salience given to personal experience of illness in the family. This article proposes that this salience is created through autobiographical narrative, both as individual life story and collectively shaped family history. The article focuses on responses related to health in the family drawn from semi-structured interviews with women in a qualitative study exploring midlife women's health. Uncertainty about the future was a major emergent theme. Most respondents were worried about a specified condition such as heart disease or breast cancer. Many women were uncertain about whether illness in the family was inherited. Some felt certain that illness in the family meant that they were more vulnerable to illness or that their relatives' ageing would be mirrored in their own inevitable decline, while a few expressed cautious optimism about the future. In order to elucidate these responses, we focused on narratives in which family members' appearance was discussed and compared to that of others in the family. The visualization of both kinship and the effects of illness led to strong similarities being seen as grounds for worry. This led to some women distancing themselves from the legacies of illness in their families. Women tended to look at the whole family as the context for their perceptions of vulnerability, developing complex patterns of resemblance or difference within their families.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-293
JournalHealth:An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2008


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