As a 55-year-old woman, I find Richard Cohen's depiction of the status of older women a lot of nonsense, to put it mildly {magazine, July 5}. Who are his friends, anyway? In the 27 years I've lived in Washington not a single woman I've known spent her days playing bridge, tennis or golf and lunching at the club. Who does he think keeps families running and schools, hospitals, churches and political parties going by their generous volunteer efforts? We spent the years when a lot of people work like the dickens at making law partner working like the dickens raising families and fulfilling other family and community responsibilities.

As an aging graduate student -- and there are many of us -- I object strenuously to Cohen's anti-intellectual view that the advanced degrees earned by older women are a waste of time and effort because they don't pay off in a job. Apparently Cohen's father never told him -- or he didn't listen -- that life's rewards are not all in a big paycheck and an important job description. Admittedly, many women of my age and economic status didn't need to make money for life's necessities. "Choosing" to raise our children was less a choice and more what was expected by others and by ourselves. But we also didn't lead the yuppie life of expensive vacations, fashionable clothes and restaurants taken for granted by many young professionals today. Many of us became great budgeters and managers.

Yes, it's tough for old ladies to find that no employer will hire them for a job when they have the brains, education and competence, but not the "relevant" experience. Or, when lucky enough to be hired, they are paid a fraction of their worth, have limited opportunities for advancement and are at the mercy of their employer -- they may never get another job if they leave the one they have.

But hardest of all may be seeing so many not-so-brilliant "life-timers" running the office and the world. That's when I remind myself that life is a succession of trade-offs. That's when I thank my lucky stars for the rewarding years I spent with a good husband and three terrific children. That's when I'm grateful I had time to spend with my father when he was dying and to be with my mother when she was ill. That's when I think of the friends I made and the time I put in teaching Sunday school and working on school projects and political campaigns. Then I don't mind so much that I'm not a great theology professor or the famous journalist my late-in-life efforts convince me I could have been.

Don't feel too sorry for us old-timers, Cohen. And don't count us out. -- Efthalia Walsh