Special Articles / T.K. Nair / Older People in Rural Tamilnadu
The major findings covering the characteristics, social and family relations, health condition, employment and retirement, economic situation, opinions and feelings of 1,598 elderly men and women living in 200 villages in the state of Tamilnadu are presented in this chapter into two parts. The first part analyses the differences in characteristics, problems and feelings between elderly men and women. The second part discusses these aspects in relation to change in age.
Elderly Men and Women
More elderly women than men are housebound and bedridden. Slightly more older men than women have good eye sight. But there is no significant difference between older men and women reporting sound hearing ability. Older men and women who felt giddy and who fell within the past week are more or less same in proportions. Though more older women than men have inability to perform all tasks except cutting toe-nails, only in bathing and climbing stairs or steps the difference is significant. Only a slight excess of older women (3 per cent) over men is seen in the highly incapacitated group. More older women than men rate their health as poor. More of them also think that their health is worse than that of their counterparts. In falling sick, older women do not differ significantly from older men. Older men and women who were hospitalized during the past twelve months also do not differ significantly. Though elderly men and women who stayed in bed for fifteen days or less do not differ, more aged women than men were in bed for longer period of more than a month. Slightly more older men than women have seen a doctor within a month. Similarly more older women than men have never seen a doctor at all or have seen one more than an year ago only.
A large number of elderly men are married while most of the women are widows. More older women than men are childless. More older women have fewer children (that is, three or less), whereas more men have six or more children. More elderly men than women have children of both sexes too.
Elderly men and women without siblings do not differ significantly. Further, equal proportions of older men and women have three or more siblings. More elderly women than men have grandchildren and great grandchildren. More older women are in four generation families while older men in three generation families exceed older women.
Though equal proportions of older men and women live with a child, fewer elderly men (44 per cent) than women (54 per cent) with married sons live with one. Aged men and women in large and very large households do not differ significantly.
Older men and women in equal proportions have at least one child in the village; so also a son and a daughter. Older men and women who had seen a child, a son or a daughter during the past week do not differ significantly in proportions. But elderly men (59 per cent), in large number, have seen a sibling the same day or the previous day in comparison with elderly women (36 per cent).
More elderly men than women stayed overnight with children as well as had children to stay overnight with them. On the whole, there is no difference between the proportions of older men and women who are in close contact with family.
Older men and women in almost equal proportions receive help from children, but fewer older women give help. More old women are looked after by their children. They are twice (55 per cent) the older men. Among those who totally take care of children most are men (women 5 per cent, men 36 per cent). More aged women receive help from grandchildren as well as from siblings and relatives. In equal proportions older men and women give help to siblings and relatives. But more older men than women take complete care of their siblings and relatives.
More older men than women prefer living with spouse only. But as the ideal living arrangement for the aged, fewer men prefer living with a married son. Much fewer men living with a married son or living with a married daughter now recommend that arrangement as the ideal in old age.
Employment and Retirement
The elderly labour force has more men (59 per cent) than women (29 per cent). More older men than women work more than 48 hours a week. More older men than women retired after 65. But more older women than men gave poor health as the reason for retirement from work. Older men and women who look forward to stop working as well as those who do not like the idea of stop working or have not thought about it do not differ significantly.
Employed older men and women in almost equal proportions would miss money in retirement. At the same time, money and meeting people at work are equally missed by the retired men and women. Older men and women retirees in equal proportions do not want to work again.
More older women(24 per cent) than men (7 per cent) live alone. At the same time, more old women than men live in close proximity to their children. Slightly more older women have also seen a child within the past week. More older women in isolation than men receive help from children, siblings and other relatives.
More older women than men are often alone, are free the whole day, are finding that time often passes slowly, and are lonely. Slightly more of them say that all or many old people are lonely. Slightly fewer women than men are optimistic.
Widows, divorcees and single women are the poorest among the elderly, 52 per cent have no income at all. More widows and other women than couples and men are in very poor and poor income households (81 per cent).
Eye sight dims with age and hearing ability diminishes as age increases. Reported giddiness and falls increase in incidence with advancing age. Despite exceptions, capacity for personal tasks decreases with age and conversely, incapacity increases as one grows older and older.
Poor raters of health increase with age. Barring the elderly in the eighties, the proportion of those who have fallen ill during the past twelve months increases with age. But age does not seem to be the influencing factor in deciding the hospitalisation of the aged as well as recent physician contact.
The elderly who are married decrease with age and those who are widows and widowers increase, though with exceptions. Possession of surviving children is independent of age. At the same time, possession of grandchildren and great grandchildren is directly associated with age. Elderly without siblings increase with age and those who have siblings decrease.
Joint living between elderly men and their children decreases with age. But as fathers grow older and older more and more children live near them (that is, those who are living with and those who live close by). But the close proximity of children to mothers is independent of age. Last contact between elderly parents and children is also independent of age. With increase in age those who give help to children and grandchildren reduce. But those who receive help from children are independent of age. Irrespective of age, most older people receive help from children.
Employment and Retirement
With increase in age, fewer and fewer elderly persons are in employment. Decline in the number of hours of work is not seen with increase in age. The vast majority of the employed elderly work the same number of hours they have been doing during the past three years. A substantial minority works more hours now than during the earlier years. The percentage of older men who opted for voluntary retirement because of advanced age does not increase with age, but that of women does.
Though only a fourth of the employed elderly look forward to stop working, among those who anticipate retirement the proportion increases with age. Those who do not like the idea of giving up work are equidistributed in the three age groups 60-64, 65-69, and 70 and above. But those who have not thought about retirement decrease with age. Irrespective of age, older people assert that they would never stop working. But those who say that they will work till they are unable to work are slightly more among those in the sixties (75 per cent) than those in the advanced years (70 per cent). With the exception in the youngest age group of 60-64 years, the proportion of retired older people who enjoy rest and relaxation decreases with age and those who enjoy nothing increase with age.
The proportions of elderly below the level of subsistence increase with age.
The elderly who live alone, whether incapacitated or not, do not increase or decrease with age. There is no significant association between ageing and lack of family contact. But boredom and aloneness increase with age. This is independent of incapacity. But loneliness does not give adequate evidence of association with ageing. Ageing starts much earlier in Tamilnadu and those who consider middle aged decrease with age. Interestingly, optimism towards life increases with age. On the whole, empirical evidence in support of disengagement is very limited.
Integration or Segregation
The findings of the study reveal the positive and negative dimensions of the family in rural Tamilnadu. The typical rural family is not the joint family. Not many elderly persons in joint households now welcome that as the ideal living arrangement in old age. The tendency towards separation between married sons and parents is evident. The likelihood of segregated living of the elderly widows and widowers is high, particularly when they are bereft of children or with fewer children. It is more likely for the older widows. At the same time, there is a strong evidence of compensation of separate living arrangement between parents and children by close proximity to children and close contact between parents and children. The lack or separation of children is compensated by close contact between the elderly, and their siblings and other relatives. With all the constraints, family is the source of support, (including sustenance for many) care during illness, and help in household and personal tasks for the aged. In conclusion, the findings of this study indicate greater evidence of integration of the elderly into society than segregation. Welfare planning should, therefore, aim at facilitating the process of integration and weakening the forces of disintegration.
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