Special Articles / T.K. Nair / Older People in Rural Tamilnadu
Work is significant to people from many angles. It is the source of livelihood for most. It confers status in the family and enhances prestige in the community. It places the individual in a network of social relations with people at the work spot. It occupies most of the time in a day and most part of one’s active period in life. It has purpose and expectation, tangible and intangible returns. Without undermining the pecuniary significance of work and its economic functions, different people have different meanings of work. To one, it is a source of sustenance, for another it is a pastime, and for yet another it is an opportunity to serve the society.
Some work because of the association of people which it offers and some others work for the sake of work; their satisfaction is intrinsic in the fact of their working. Work brings to some the sense of accomplishment and to some others the feeling of usefulness. Thus employment has significant psychological connotations beyond the money it brings in. As work is significant to individuals for more than one reason, retirement from work is poignant for many reasons.
Between men and women, work and retirement have different social and personal implications. The working women in the villages are usually poor and belong to lower castes. It is quite common for women to work as family labour in agriculture and in household enterprises. Otherwise, it is not common for women from middle class families to work after puberty. Men, on the other hand, are the heads of families. They must work as long as they can. Work, therefore, has more significance for men, particularly in a man-oriented society. So retirement may be followed by more adjustmental and emotional problems for men than for women. The profoundity of the effect of retirement is not felt by women in employment because of the continuity of home-making responsibilities.
Labour force participation was determined by the work status of the elderly during the week prior to the interview. A person was considered to be working if he or she got a remuneration for his or her work in the form of wage, salary, profit, allowance or honorarium, however small, whether in cash or in kind, and whether regularly or not. However, a person who worked as an unpaid family worker for a trade, a business, a household enterprise or agriculture carried on by the members of his or her household was also considered to be working whether or not he or she had a direct remuneration from such work. Those persons who had been working, but were temporarily absent from work for reasons such as illness, injury, bad weather, and for other similar causes including social and religious necessitating absence from work were also considered to be in the labour force. The temporarily absent persons included those who worked during certain seasons of the year and casual workers who worked just now and then. The employed also covered those who were unemployed and looking for work. Among those who gave up working completely, women who did so before they were fifty were also included as housewives.
Labour Force Participation
The proportion of elderly in the labour force is high, they are nine out of every twenty older persons. Agriculture, traditional occupations, household enterprises and unskilled manual jobs do enable the elderly in the villages to be in employment and age per se does not make them obsolete in the labour market. The structured jobs are fewer in the villages where age is a determinant of continuity in employment.
The proportion of men in employment is double that of women. This is quite natural because men are the principal breadwinners of the families. Women work either to supplement the family income or for sheer survival, if they have no other source of livelihood.
Labour force participation declines with age. Between older men and women, though the trends are same, there are revealing variations. Among older women, labour force participation is negligible among those who are past seventy five. But it is not so among men. Even among the older men in the eighties, one in four is in the work force.
Instead of speculating on the many reasons, the elderly were directly asked why they worked after sixty. Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) have no other means of livelihood and a seventh (14 per cent) work to maintain the family. Some (8 per cent) work to supplement the family income, and a few others do so either because they have none to help (more than two per cent) or they do not like to depend on others (1 per cent). Some say that they work because they want to keep themselves engaged (5 per cent) or they are fit enough to work (1 per cent). More women than men say that they work for a living. Maintenance of the family is normally the problem of men and therefore the number of women work for that is negligible. But older women (16 per cent) than men (4 per cent) say that they work to supplement the family income. The economic reasons are not mutually exclusive, they overlap heavily. For instance, when an old man says that he works for livelihood he does so to maintain the family too. Similarly when an old woman reports that she works to supplement the family income, it could easily be for her livelihood too. Poverty seems to be an overriding factor in the discussion on the employment of the older People, particularly older women.
The majority of the aged in the workforce are self – employed (55per cent). However the wage earners are substantial in number; they are about four in ten. While nearly two-thirds of the men are self-employed, more than a half of the women are wage earners. A substantial number of older people, particularly older women, are unpaid family workers. The older women assist mostly husbands and children in agriculture, business and household enterprise.
Older men remain more years in the labour force than older women. An overwhelming majority of the older people in retirement were working after sixty. Only three in ten gave up work before that. Men are fewer among the early retirees. Those who continued to work even after seventy are preponderously more among men. The nature of employment was a conducive factor for late retirement: Sixty four per cent men and thirty eight per cent women were self-employed or unpaid family workers. Only about 3 per cent were in the organized sectors of employment.
As employment in the organized sectors is not common among the rural elderly, people work as long as they can. Thus retirement in most cases should be voluntary, and the principal reason for retirement should be ill-health or health-related conditions. This is true. Those who were compulsorily retired by the employer are one in fifty; similar are those who had to retire because of the statutory age of superannuation; and an almost equal proportion had to leave the job under compelling circumstances like loss in business and agriculture. Poor health, as the sole reason for retirement, is reported by two in five of the retired. A substantial number had to give up work because of disablement due to paralysis, accident or other reasons. Nearly a fourth adduced advanced age as the reason for retirement but age per se does not offer a satisfactory explanation in most of the cases. Most of them might have “felt” the age because of indifferent health, sensory problems, and problems in doing different tasks. Poor eye sight is another significantly mentioned reason for retirement, and strain of job made a number of elderly to quit the job.
The reasons for retirement cannot be taken at their face value. There are a host of circumstances that finally determine one’s giving up work. The information recorded in the study refers to the main reason as perceived by the respondent at the time of giving up work. This is a limitation. Despite the limitations, we may conclude that ill-health, disablement, sensory impairment, strenuous job and advanced age, alone or in combination, are the reasons for the retirement of most of the older people. Older women, in particular, are more likely to withdraw from work life because of ill-health than older men. Among the small number of other reasons are some significant ones: “I resigned my job and returned to the village to look after my old father”; “My sons compelled me to divide the property. I gave away all the land to them and stopped working”; “My husband fell ill. So I stopped working to nurse him”; “Because of my work (petty trade) so many customers come home. My son did not like that because he was newly married. I had no other go other than giving up work”.
Psychology of Work
We have already examined the labour force participation of the older people, and the reasons for giving up work by the retired. Against this background, it would be pertinent to analyse the psychological elements and implications of employment and retirement. Do the older people in employment look forward to retirement? Do they envisage the possibility of retirement? What things do the retired people enjoy in retirement? What things the retired men and women miss in retirement and what things will the employed miss when they give up work? Do the aged feel that retirement has lowered their status?
Only a quarter of the employed men and women look forward to stop working. An almost equal proportion (23 per cent) says that they do not like the idea of giving up work while more than a half (52 per cent)have not even thought about retirement. These opinions are independent of gender.
The vast majority of the employed are not in favour of retirement. So it is natural to expect that the majority will say that they will have ‘nothing’ to enjoy in retirement. It is so. The only significant thing the elderly could look for in retirement is rest and relaxation. Three in ten feel so. This is natural with a substantial number anticipating retirement within a specific period. Older men are more likely than women to report that they will enjoy rest and relaxation in retirement and they are also more among those who have mentioned definite periods within which they would retire from work. There are a substantial number of older working men and women who have strong feelings about the post-retirement life. Older women than men are more apprehensive of the unpleasantness in retirement. Their responses are quite disturbing: “What is there to enjoy in retirement, except loss of respect and money?”; “I will have to struggle with reduced income. How can I enjoy?”; “I will starve, if I stop working”; “If I were to retire, I will have to push my days to the grave”; “Enjoyment ? I can foresee only dark and difficult days”; “I will have to depend on my children, if I stop working. Is it enjoyment?” One elderly woman shudders at the possibility of retirement; she says “I must work till I die, otherwise my son will scold me”
When the vast majority of the older people in employment do not think that they will enjoy anything in retirement, it would be necessary to find out what things they would miss in retirement. Almost all the employed will miss the money the job brings in once they stop working. But money is not the only reward one gets from employment. For every response on the likely loss of money in retirement, there are two responses stressing on the non-economic things that they will be missing. Work has different meanings for different people. Many feel that they will miss the respect of others once they cease to be in employment. Meeting people at the work spot is another significant thing the employed older people are likely to miss. So also the feeling of usefulness. A large number are likely to miss the many things happening around them in the work environment. For many, the very satisfaction the work gives will be lost in retirement. While money will be missed by men and women in equal proportions, more men and women will miss the non-monetary elements inherent in work. Work has more economic significance for women. The two areas in which men and women differ pronouncedly are the respect they command from others and job satisfaction. These are more dear to men than to women and they would miss them to a great extent than women. The work environment and the various things taking place there would also be missed more by men.
Old persons who are working would miss many things in retirement other than money. But what things will they most? When faced with the necessity to rank the many things people miss once they stop working, money outweighs the others for most persons. It is the principal thing which more than four of every five would miss once they give up work. More older women than men will feel the lack of money once they stop working. Elderly men and women, who would miss many things in retirement, have significant priorities when they have to point out the major item they would miss once they give up work. Next to money, the feeling of usefulness and the respect they command from other people are the things the older people would miss most in retirement. The fear of losing respect of others is a concern of more elderly men, while the feeling of not becoming useful worries more women. More than anything, the retired persons miss the money that the job brought in; more than nine in ten of the retired report so. But work is more than wage. It means many things–social, psychological and emotional. Older men and women who stopped working miss many other things too like their employed counterparts who perceive the things they are likely to miss in retirement. The respect of other people, feeling of usefulness and meeting different people at the place of work are the other important things the elderly miss in retirement; the proportions range from 55 to 49. One in three misses the many things that normally take place in and around the work spot. The satisfaction and pleasure derived from work are totally missed by one in four retired aged. Elderly men particularly miss pleasure from work, respect and things happening in the work environment more profoundly than women.
In retirement, older people are deprived of many things that they enjoyed in employment. But what things do they miss most? Among the different things missed in retirement, money is the major item for the vast majority (nearly four in five) of the retired. For one in five the void is not monetary. To them, the prime loss is not money but respect, sense of utility, pleasure from work, people and diverse incidents. To many for whom money is secondary, respect of others is paramount. They miss it once they stopped working. A substantial number of older men and women feel that they are no longer useful to themselves and society. Contrary to the picture that emerged in the general analysis of the things missed in retirement by elderly men and women, wherein retired women are found to miss the different items to a lesser extent than men, older men and women do not differ significantly in the things they miss most in retirement.
Both the employed and the retired stress on the loss of respect of others among the different things people are likely to miss or really miss in retirement. Respect from people figures prominently as an essential ingredient of work. The working and the non-working older men and women were, therefore, asked to give their opinion on the statement “most people lose respect for a person who has retired and is no longer working”. Most people, employed as well as the retired, firmly feel that retirement would lead to loss of respect from others. The retired (90 per cent) obviously exceed the employed (84 per cent).
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