Author Tags: Advice, Non-Fiction

Lillian Zimmerman is a powerful advocate for the dignity and rights of middle-aged and older women. Widowed, a single parent and a grandparent of four adult grandchildren at age 85 in 2009, she increasingly put her energies into making gerontological research findings available to a more general community. Derived from her interviews as an associate with the Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre, Baglady or Powerhouse?: A Roadmap for Midlife (Boomer) Women (Detselig 2009) includes case histories of courage and discrimination, not without optimism and humour. $29.95 9781550593648

Statistics Canada made headlines in 2017 when it was reported that for the first time since Confederation people over the age of 65 in Canada outnumber the 15-and-younger demographic. “I deplore the ‘population aging as a crisis’ story that is so often found in the media,” writes Lillian Zimmerman, “portraying those of us who are old as a threat and future burdens. This is both untrue and harmful. Such thinking robs people of self-respect and constitutes a failure to recognize what most older people have achieved. We have accomplished a great deal of good, and will continue to do so.”

In Did You Just Call Me Old Lady? (Fernwood $18), 92-year-old Zimmerman made the case that long-livers can have fulfilling lives and they make valuable contributions to society. She exposes how negative attitudes can arise from jokes about memory loss and sexual infirmity, as well as ads for products to alleviate bodily failings. She asserts that ageism, like sexism and racism, needs to be more widely addressed. Consequently Zimmerman established a new scholarship at SFU to annually support a graduate student in the Department of Gerontology during their first year of study. 9781552668979

Lillian Zimmerman (MSW) has been a Research Associate in Gender Issues at the GRC and an adult educator who has been primarily interested in issues concerning women. She has organized numerous courses and workshops and addressed seminars and conferences nationally and provincially. She represented Canada at a UNESC0 conference in Frankfurt in the early 80s on non-traditional work for women. She was awarded two study grants by the Swedish Government in 1984 and 1989 to go to Stockholm and learn about Swedish social policy on Working Families. In 1998 Lillian completed a three-year term as a member of the B.C. Seniors Advisory Council, heading a task force and conducting a study for a position paper published in 1998 "Perspectives on Older Women in BC: Socio-Economic Change in the Making".

She was a faculty member of Douglas College for 20 years where she worked in continuing education and lifelong learning, latterly as chair of the department. Following her retirement from the college in 1991 Lillian became interested in issues which affected older Canadian women, specifically women and retirement. She found little, either in the literature or advocacy directed to this population. In fact, older women were ignored generally, even by groups supportive of women's concerns, despite the fact that older Canadian women are among Canada's poorest.

Lillian and Dr. Veronica Doyle received a grant from a major credit union, Vancouver City Savings, to research the retirement plans of their female staff members. This research was carried out at the Gerontology Research Centre with GRC Research Associate Lynne MacFadgen. A major concern was the intersection of paid work (public sphere) with unpaid work (domestic) and how these affect women's late life income. A paper entitled "Women's Retirement: Shifting Ground" was published in the book Rethinking Retirement, a compendium of papers presented at a 1995 Conference of the same name, organized by Lillian. In 1994, Lillian, Lynne MacFadgen and Gloria Gutman (Professor and Director of the Gerontology Research Centre) received a grant from the Social Sciences Humanities and Research Council (SSHRC) towards a larger research project on Women and Retirement. Three hundred and six women in the Lower Mainland of B.C. were studied in age cohorts of 45-54, 55-64 and 65+, regarding their work histories, knowledge of finances, retirement timing, among other variables.

With recent Federal pension reforms, interest in retirement has burgeoned, as has the literature, with growing attention to women's paid and unpaid work in relation to their late life resources. Lillian is skeptical about mainstream assumptions that current working women "boomers" will be secure in their retirement, saying "Women still interrupt their work for family responsibilities, and will increasingly be called on to provide eldercare." With many women working in service sector occupations which afford little by way of pensions she feels "a secure old age is far from assured." Lillian later shifted her interest to intergenerational issues, disagreeing with common views which target an aging population as necessitating changes to Canada's social welfare system, including pensions.

Feeling that the issues are far broader than simplistic notions about aging itself, Lillian, Dr. Ellen Gee, Dr. Gloria Gutman and Dr. Barbara Mitchell organized the Ninth Friesen Conference "The Overselling of Population Aging: Apocalyptic Demography and Intergenerational Challenges" at SFU in May, 1998.


Did you just call me old lady?: A ninety-year-old tells why aging is positive (Fernwood Books 2016)

Zimmerman, L., & Spencer, C. (forthcoming). “Bismarck meets the boomers: Does mandatory retirement have a future?” In G. Gutman, & L. Zimmerman (Eds.) Boomers come of retirement age: Snow birds or sitting ducks?

Zimmerman, L. (2009). Bag lady or powerhouse? A roadmap for midlife (boomer) women. Calgary, AB: Detselig.

Zimmerman, L. (2001). The Canada Pension Plan. In Encarta Encyclopedia [CD-ROM]. Microsoft.

Zimmerman, L. (2001). The Quebec Pension Plan. In Encarta Encyclopedia [CD-ROM]. Microsoft.

Zimmerman, L. (2000). Foreword. In The overselling of population aging: Apocalyptic demography, intergenerational challenges, and social policy. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Zimmerman, L., Mitchell, B., Wister, A.V., & Gutman, G.M. (2000). Unanticipated consequences: A comparison of expected and actual retirement timing among older women. Women and Aging, 12(1/2), 109-128.

Zimmerman, L., & Spencer, C. (2000). You do have choices: A practical guide for financial decisons for women of all ages. Vancouver: Gerontology Research Centre, Simon Fraser University.

Zimmerman, L., & Spencer, C. (1999). Facing widowhood: A practical guide. Vancouver: Gerontology Research Centre, Simon Fraser University. [With a grant received from the Canadian Legion, Pacific Command.]

Gutman, G., MacFadgen, L., & Zimmerman, L. (1998). Retiring women: Public issues, private problems. Vancouver: Gerontology Research Centre, Simon Fraser University.

Zimmerman, L. (1997). A guide to Canada's public pension system. Vancouver: Gerontology Research Centre, Simon Fraser University. [With a grant received from the Canadian Legion, Pacific Command.]

[BCBW 2017]