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‘A Different Shade of Gray’ By Katherine Newman: Book Review

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‘A Different Shade of Gray’ written by Katherine Newman looks at a neglected group within the inner city. This group is the minorities that are middle-aged or older and they include African American, Puerto Rican, and Dominican respondents who took place in New York City life history interviews. Newman compares this data against a larger New York City survey and national data that comes from these middle-aged and older people. These people are elderly inner-city residents have worked hard against many odds that they have been dealt. Their stories show their strength and resilience, but Newman says without policy intervention many of these people will continue to struggle. This book is informed by the life course approach and pays attention to local history and the national landscape. These both help to evaluate how their lives have been shaped by both opportunities (Newman, 2003).

Strengths and Weaknesses

The strengths of this book includes that the most interesting chapters were chapter one and chapter three since both of them begin with the stories of different people that help to explain the main points. The stories show how these problems and issues relate to people and their daily lives. Chapter six was the longest chapter in the book. However, it was quite interesting as it delves into racial and ethnic groups, they tend to be hard on their own communities. The weaknesses of this book include the fact that Newman will present some of her respondents’ views without having an analysis. We read that Shiela blames many of African American’s problems on the predominance of single-mother households; fathers and positive male role models are necessary. Newman does list the signs that lead Shiela to believe that her community is falling apart, but does not make any further comments. This allows the view that Shiela has to take on an aura of reality. Another drawback to this book is the fact that the author threw together people in their forties with those that are in their sixties and seventies. These people may be at different stages in their lives and are of different generations. Overall, the problems in this book are pretty minor and do not take away from the value that this book may have to those that are interested in families, aging, relationships between different races and ethnicities, poverty, and urban life (Newman, 2003).


Connections can be made between ‘A Different Shade of Gray’ by Katherine Newman and our classes text book called ‘Aging and the Life Course’ by Jill Quadagno. Both of these book touch on the topic of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. In the book by Newman, they talk about specific examples bringing people into the discussion. They are talking about people life experiences and how that affected them. For example, in chapter four which is titled ‘Men and Women: Together and Apart in the Later Years’ she discusses the fact that marriage may be going out of style. This may be occurring since cohabitation is becoming increasingly popular. She uses the example of Reynaldo and his family. Reynaldo and Margolita were never married. He met her when he was eighteen. Another example is in the case of Cheryl. She met her first serious boyfriend at the age of eighteen and she became pregnant. After this the relationship slowly unraveled. She had a kid with a man named Lucas, but after their relationship ended Lucas had four or five kids with her friend named Robin. After this Cheryl met Rodney and they were together for nearly a decade. Then Cheryl got over Rodney and she claims that she wants nothing to do with men (Newman, 2003). In the textbook written by Jill Quadagno, there is a discussion of marriage, divorce, the effect that remarriage has and elderly that are unmarried. The quality of your marriage has a great effect on your health. It is stated that married adults fare better than those that are unmarried on a range of different health outcomes. People that are married have lower mortality rates, fewer chronic conditions, less mobility loss, and better self-rated health. The text also talks about divorce and states that the divorce rate has declined since the 1970s. Contrasting this global trend is the fact that those fifty and over have seen a rise in divorce trends. This can be due to the fact that a lot of baby boomers are on their second or third marriages. People may be less willing to stay in an unhappy marriage as well. Another factor is that women who imitate later life divorces have more work experience and so they think that they can make it on their own. Divorce can increase economic hardship as these couples often have to split their retirement savings and sell their home which is normally their number one asset. The text also talks about the effect that divorce has on that couple’s kids. It says that kids that come from divorced families have less obligation towards their parents than those that are from intact families. Children that come from two-parent households are able to see their parents more often and therefore they have more positive relationships. Finally, in the text they discuss the effect of remarriage. Companionship is the most common reason for remarrying among those that are widows. Remarriages however are a little more likely to end in divorce compared to first marriages (Quadagno, 2018).

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Another connection between the two texts is the discussion of parent-child relationship. In the book ‘A Different Shade of Gray’, Newman, has a discussion on the social responsibility of child rearing. A chart, which shows the percentage of people that have family obligations and in which ways, states that from the national mean 52.6 percent feel an obligation to drop plans when children seem troubled. It also shows that 52.9 percent feel that they have an obligation to keep in touch with their parents on a regular basis. 29.7 percent of the national mean say that they have an obligation to call, write, or visit their adult children regularly. 29.7 percent feel an obligation to take divorced or unemployed adult children back home. Finally, the chart shows that 22.2 percent feel an obligation to raise the child of a close friend if the friend died. These are a bunch of the statistics found in ‘A Different Shade of Gray’ regarding family obligations and child rearing (Newman 2003). In the Quadagno text, there is also a discussion of parent-child relationships. This text explains that next to your marital tie there is nothing more important than the relationship between a parent and a child. Parents and children do spend many years of their life together. The text also explains that this relationship is permanent and involuntary meaning that you cannot chose your parents. Positive parent-child relationships do increase psychological and physical well-being. So, positive parent-child relationships are really important for both the parent and the child involved (Quadagno 2018).

The final connection that I could make was about retirement. In the book ‘A Different Shade of Gray’ there is a discussion of the different types of jobs that people could get. She tells the story of Lena who grew up in Georgia, but moved to New York City. In New York City she began a thirty-year career in millinery. She had a manual labor job, but she didn’t mind since she enjoyed her job. She was reasonably well paid, but she knew that she could do better if she had a job that was unionized. Lena eventually worked her way up the being the assistant ‘floor lady’ in a factory. She was able to hold onto her job for nearly twenty years. She kept her job until her ailing father needed her help, so she left her job in order find something that was closer to home and more flexible. Her job history was shaped by her family demands and sometimes this was to her detriment (Newman, 2003). In the textbook which is written by Quadagno, there is statistics on labor force participation. It states that nearly all men in their thirties and early forties are in the labor force. It states that women are more likely to be having intermittent work and are more likely to have part-time jobs. Many women take time out to care for young kids. Younger women however are taking less time out for caregiving and are becoming more likely to hold full-time jobs. It states that because of this women have disadvantages, because part-time jobs often lack pension benefits or health insurance (Quadagno, 2018).


Overall, the book ‘A Different Shade of Gray’ by Katherine Newman contributes to a better understanding of aging and life course by describing specific people’s life stories. She makes things more personal by adding the experiences that people are going through into the book while also adding statistics and facts. We can learn about aging and everything that goes on, but I feel like until we see how it actually can affect somebody, we won’t truly understand the struggles. This book is good for anyone that is looking to learn about aging and what it entails. If someone wants to learn about the struggles and the happiness that can be found in aging then this would be a good source.


  1. Newman, Katherine. 2003. A Different Shade of Gray: Midlife and Beyond in the Inner City. New York: The New Press.
  2. Quadagno, Jill. 2018. Aging and the Life Course: An Introduction to Social Gerontology. New York: McGraw Hill.
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