Special Articles / T.K. Nair / Older People in Rural Tamilnadu
The central themes of the discussion on the situation of the elderly in India are the structural changes that have been taking place in Indian society, the concomitant disintegration of the joint family system and the consequent rejection or neglect of the aged (Planning commission, 1963). These views are widely shared among planners, social scientists and social workers. Two issues emerge from this thesis. One, the joint family has been the popular family system prevalent in India till recently. Two, the aged were well taken care of in the joint family system. Empirical evidences are lacking to support these statements conclusively.
Gupta, in his introduction to a volume consisting of many family studies, comments that “too much attention has been given to the concept of joint family”, which in effect did not represent the structural norm of the Indian social system (Gupta, 1976). Joint family is different from joint residence. As Desai (1964) observes “———even in those times when the joint family system was said to be prevalent, it did not and need not have meant a preponderingly large majority of the joint households”. However, the process of nucleation does not mean disruption of family ties. “Even those units which are scattered at several locations continue to fulfil kinship obligations———. The expansion of such ties is continually augmented among the units which are branched off enlarging the structural unit at a different levels” (Gupta, 1976). He calls this “structural expansion”. He goes still further and asserts that “industrialisation, considered to be a major agent of family disintegration in the west, has, in fact reinforced family ties in India in several ways”.
There is no dispute regarding the pre–eminent position of the elderly in the early Indian society. But to say that there was no neglect of the aged then and such a condition is only a recent phenomenon is an exaggeration. For instance, older widows have always been a disadvantaged group. Whatever be the controversies on the joint family and the care the elderly received in the earlier family system, the institution of family is the principal agent of integration of the elderly in society. This chapter, therefore, examines the family structure of the older people in rural Tamilnadu, the number of generations of the families of the aged, the living arrangement of the older men and women, and between the children and their aged parents and other aspects of family relations.
Most of the aged women have lost their spouses. Divorce has almost been a social taboo and consequently the separated and the divorced are few: less than two per cent (one per cent older men and 2 per cent older women). Widowhood is a characteristic feature of ageing particularly because of the difference in age, which is often high, between husbands and wives. But the majority of the men are married. While three–quarters of the elderly men have surviving wives more than four in five elderly women have lost their husbands. Those who remain single are negligible.
Thirty per cent of the elderly women were married young before they reached fourteen. They were married immediately after puberty or even before that. But only a negligible number of men got married at that young age. Further, more than a half (53 per cent of the women) were married between 15 and 19 and only an eighth of the men were married in that age group. On the whole, most of the women were married before they reached twenty. Women marry early in life to men much older to them and they become widows in their middle ages. Widow remarriage is rare in Indian society and thus the population and proportion of widows swell. But the majority of the men do not become widowers having married to younger women. Many of them who lose wives at an early age re-marry. Eighteen per cent of the men in this study are remarried as against less than two per cent women. Marital status is inversely associated with age. The proportion of married elderly decreases with age while there is a corresponding increase in the proportion of widows and widowers. Men and women lose their husbands and wives with the passage of time. Marital status of the older men and women exhibits significant variations at different ages. Widows aged 60–64 years are four times as large as widowers in that age group. Almost all the women in the eightees are widows whereas widowers in the eightees are slightly more than a half. Four in five of the older women in the sixties are widows whereas the same proportions of older men have their wives living. The proportion of married men remains same during the sixties and the first half of the seventies. It reduces significantly between the ages 65 and 69, and drastically between 70 and 74 years, increases considerably in the next age group of 75–79 years and falls steeply.
Nine in ten elderly persons have surviving children. More elderly women than men are childless and almost all of them are widows and divorcees. For every childless old man there are two old women. An eighth of the women are handicapped by the twin misfortunes of death of husbands and loss or lack of children. Not only whether an older person has surviving children or not is important, but the number and sex of children are equally significant aspects which have direct bearing on the living arrangement of the aged, the support the elderly get and the nature of emotional relationships between the parents and the children. The situation of a person with an only child may be similar to that of a childless person in many instances, particularly in living arrangement because of migration of son for employment and separation of daughter after marriage. The emotional experiences too differ between parents and sons, and parents and daughters. The sex of children also determines how soon one would become a grandfather or grandmother. Older people with daughters become grandparents earlier than older people with sons.
One in six older persons with children has only one child. More of them are elderly women. One–third of the older persons have one or two children. Older women with fewer number of children far exceed older men. Slightly more than a third of the elderly men and women have three to four surviving children. More older men than women have more children, that is, five or more. Elderly women, thus, are not only more likely to be childless, but are also more likely to be with fewer number of children.
Seven in ten older people have children of both sexes. Older men obviously are larger in proportion than older women. Three–fourths of the elderly men have both sons and daughters as against slightly more than three–fifths of the older women. Slightly more than three in ten elderly have only children of the same sex. More of them are elderly women. Neatly a fifth have only a son or all sons and an eighth have only a daughter or all daughters. A sizeable percentage has an only son (9 per cent) and slightly fewer of them have a only daughter (7 per cent), and the proportions of older women are slightly greater than those of older men. More widows and widowers than the married have children of the same sex whether an only child or more children. The married with sons and daughters are more than three in four, while the widows and widowers are three in five.
Brothers and Sisters
Next to children, siblings are a source of material and emotional support, not withstanding areas of tension over property in some instances. The emotional bond between elderly men and their sisters, and elderly women and their brothers is often found to be intense. The absence of sibling could create considerable emotional vacuum, if the person is childless and added to that is a widow or a widower. It is, therefore, significant to find out the brothers and sisters the older men and women have.
Nearly two in five elderly have neither brothers nor sisters. However, more than a third have children. One in twenty five is childless and unmarried. Most of them are elderly women. A fourth of the older people have only one sibling and another fourth have two or three siblings. Those with four or more siblings are only slightly more than a tenth. Older men and women having brothers and sisters do not differ significantly in proportion. More than a third of the older persons with surviving siblings have only brothers. More of them are men. More than a fourth have only sisters. A fourth of the older men and women have only a brother and a sixth have only a sister. Interestingly more older women than men have only sisters; but the difference is not significant enough. Nearly two in five have both brothers and sisters and elderly women are slightly more in proportion than men with siblings of both sexes.
Death robs away the siblings with the passage of age. This is clearly seen from the data on those without siblings and those with three or more living siblings. While the proportion of older persons with no sibling at all or no surviving sibling increases with age, the proportion of older men and women with more siblings decreases. Moreover, the rise and fall of the proportions is markedly striking. Even among those with one or two surviving siblings, the proportion falls with advance in age, though less steeply. The reduction in the number of surviving siblings with advance in age depends to a great extent on the order of birth of the elderly men and women.
The grandchild has a special role in the emotional life of a person and normally there is a high degree of intimacy between grandparents and grandchildren. The birth of a grandchild is an occasion of extreme happiness. It also marks the beginning of a new phase in family life. To many, it signifies the starting of “old age”. The desire to see “tender legs playing around” before one dies makes parents compel their children to get married at an early age. Once the grandchild reaches the marriageable age, the desire to see a great grandchild is all the more irresistible.
Eighty five per cent of all the aged (84 per cent men and 86 per cent women) have grandchildren and 18 per cent have great grandchildren (11 per cent men and 25 per cent women). Among those who have children (including 32 who lost their children), the older persons with grandchildren and great grandchildren constitute more than nine in ten and one in five, respectively. Almost all the older women, who have or had children, also have grandchildren where as the proportion of older men is fewer. The proportion of elderly women with grandchildren is more than double the proportion of elderly men. As the elderly persons grow older and older, more and more of them are likely to have grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is true. The proportion of the eighty–year old aged with great grandchildren is six times as large as that of those aged 60– 64 years.
The generational composition of the families of the aged is of great significance in determining the familial resources that the elderly may have access to in old age and the extent of family interaction, companionship and emotional relations. A sixth of the elderly belong to four generation families. More are older women. In terms of proportion, they are more than twice as high as elderly men. The most common are the three generation families. Two–thirds of the families of the aged in rural Tamilnadu fall into this category. Three-fourths of the older men are in this family organisation and older women in this family composition constitute only about three–fifths. This is in accordance with the expected demographic pattern of more women with great grandchildren than men. On the whole, more than four in five families of the aged are multigeneration families. Older men and women are in exactly equal proportions. Among the four generation families, more of them have more than one child. This is true of the three generation families as well. Seventy two per cent of the elderly people are in these families which are likely to be more resourceful than the other three or four generation families.
Nine per cent of the aged are in three generation families with an only son or only daughter. Similarly, slightly more than two per cent of the aged are in four generation families which are similar in composition to the former. Under normal circumstances, the aged can derive lesser support from these families than the three or four generation families with more children. This will be more so in the families with an only daughter. More older women than men are found in three or four generation families with an only child as well as an only daughter.
One in fourteen elderly persons belongs to two generation families. The proportion of older men in two generation families is two and a half times as large as older women. Nearly a half of these are again one child families with restricted resources to draw upon. A tenth of the elderly are disadvantaged in that they belong to the first generation families. Though more older women than men are in four generation families, they are also in excess in the one generation families. Among the one generation families are some with grandchildren as well as grandchildren and great grandchildren, but no children. One in twenty five is without immediate family; they have no spouse, child or sibling. Older women are pronouncedly more in this group. In sum, a substantial minority of the aged are most vulnerable with no or less immediate familial support.
Residence of Children
Nine in ten older men and women with children have at least a child in the village. For nearly a third all the children are in the same village. More of them are older women. Two-fifths of the older men and women do not have any of their daughters in the village, whereas only about an eighth of the elderly with sons are so separated from all of them. Significantly, the percentage of elderly whose all or some sons are outside the village is around 30, while the percentage of the aged whose all or some daughters are outside the village is more than 70. Two-thirds of the aged with sons have all of them in the village. The corresponding proportion of the elderly with daughters who have all their daughters in the village is only slightly more than a fourth. Though recent legislation has conferred equal property rights on sons and daughters, in practice only sons inherit and control property, while daughters are given in marriage with dowry, jewellery and household articles depending on the financial capacity of the parents. Daughters cease to be members of the natal family after marriage.
We have already seen that sons are likely to stay in the same village along with their parents under normal circumstances. Therefore, those with an eldest son or only son are likely to have their children in the same village in most cases. This is also because the eldest son normally takes up the family responsibility in succession to his father or shares with the father the responsibility in the management of the family. He also has the responsibility to look after his unmarried brothers and sisters. Sisters should be taken care of till their marriage and brothers are to be educated and made to stand on their own. He not only succeeds the father as the head of the family but has also to take care of the ageing parents. He is the key person to perform the rites after the death of the parents, without which the “soul of the dead will wander”. He is the one who should give the last drops of water to the dying father or mother which symbolize a happy end to a life. Elderly who die without their eldest son giving the last drops of water and performing the religious rituals are considered cursed. Though other sons do have significant roles in the family, the place of the eldest son is unique and irreplaceable. Ironically, old parents, even if ill–treated by their sons while living, are still considered fortunate if the sons give the last drops of water before death. So also are the parents considered lucky whose sons are at the bedside at the time of death of the parents even if they seldom visited the aged parents when they longed to see them during their life time. Separation from the child whose face the parents saw first is excruciating for most of the parents. Therefore, the likelihood of even the eldest daughter being in the same village is greater than that of the other daughters. If the daughter is an only girl or an only child the possibility is all the more high for her to be very near to the parents. This is usually made possible by giving them in marriage to relations and others in the village. More than three-fourths of the eldest sons live in the same village. The proportion goes up still further among those with only sons. In contrast to slightly more than one in four older people having all their daughters in the same village more than two in five with an eldest daughter have their daughters in the same village. The contrast becomes strikingly marked when we analyse the residence of the elderly with an only daughter. More than seven in ten with an only daughter are in the same village itself. Between elderly men and women, the latter are in an advantageous position in having the eldest or only child in the same village. It is very pronounced among those with an only daughter. More than four in five aged women with an only daughter have them in the same village. Marriage of daughters affects the pattern of residence necessitating the separation of daughters from their village of birth. This is evident from the study. Nearly a half of the elderly do not have a married daughter in their village, while more than five in six of the older people with married sons have at least one of them in the village. All the married sons of nearly seven in ten of the older people are in the same village. This is in sharp contrast to the married daughters in the same village are only a fourth. And fewer of them are older men.
In sum, the number of children the older people have, their sex distribution, their marital status and their nature of employment do affect the pattern of residence of the aged and their children. Elderly men, more than women, are affected disadvantageously by the separation of children from their village.
A question of great theoretical and practical interest is the living arrangement of people in old age. It was our expectation that the majority of the elderly men and women will be living with married sons and few people would be living alone. But this is belied completely. Most of the older people do not live with a married son and a substantial number are living alone. Only one in three older persons is living with a married son. One in six older persons is living alone. A seventh are elderly couple households. Between elderly men and women, there are significant differences. Older men living with a married son are fewer than older women. But the large majority of the aged living alone are elderly women. Among every four older women, one is left to herself.
Only one in two (49 per cent) older persons with married sons lives with a married son. They are more than a half of the women (54 per cent) and much less than a half of the men (44 per cent). A sixth (16per cent) of the older persons with married daughters live with a married daughter. Older women are more again (21 per cent) than older men (11 per cent).
Three in five older persons live with a child. Two–thirds of the older people with children live with a child, married or unmarried. Older men and women in this living arrangement are in equal proportions (68 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively). A sixth of the aged are with an unmarried child with or without other relatives. The vast majority are older men. Fewer older women, as was discussed earlier, are likely to have unmarried children than older men. And hence fewer of them are found to be living with an unmarried child. One in ten older persons is living with other relatives. Even among those who live with an unmarried child there may or may not be other relatives. Other relatives include son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother, sister, grandchildren and great grandchildren, besides others.
One in ten older persons is living with other relatives. Even among those who live with an unmarried child there may or may not be other relatives. Other relatives include son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother, sister, grandchildren and great grandchildren, besides others. Living arrangement is significantly different between the married and the widowed (including the divorced and separated) elderly. When parents become widows and widowers more of them tend to live with a married child. Two in five elderly in this category live with a married son in contrast to slightly more than one in four married older persons. Further those who live with a married daughter among the widowed are nearly twice as large as those among the married. More widowed than married elderly live with a married son or daughter, whereas more married than widowed elderly live with an unmarried child. Because of the tendency of the widowed to be with a married child, considerable difference in the proportions of the older persons living with an unmarried child is found between the married and the widowed.
Further, this is so only among the older men who after the death of wives find house making almost difficult and prefers joint living. On the other hand, widowed mothers could continue to live with their unmarried children, particularly if they are sons. For one elderly widower living with an unmarried child there are three married elderly men living with them. For the married, living with the unmarried child after the separation of married children is natural. For the widowed, loss of partner also brings about change in the pattern of living arrangement in many cases. More widowed, divorced and single than married are also found living with other relatives. Many older people prefer to or forced to live by themselves. If they are married they live with their spouses. If they are widowed, divorced or single they live alone.
The large proportion of older women living alone in contrast to older men is also because of the difference in marital status. The majority of the men are married. But when we compare the widowers and widows living alone, they are not at much variance, though the latter is more than the former. Nearly a fourth of the widowers live alone.
Though married couples normally live together, in some exceptional cases they do not. They are 12 older men and 5 older women. Among them, seven men and one woman live alone as the elderly woman’s husband lives with his second wife. The reasons for the husband’s isolated living in the seven cases are different. The wives of five men are living with the children. The wife of one old man is living with their grandchildren. One elderly man has religious reasons to be alone. He has renounced, according to him, wordly pleasures, and his wife is living with their son. He is a ‘swamiji’.
A detailed analysis of the living arrangement of the elderly is made by dividing them into three elderly units: 606 married couples, 224 widowers and 664 widows. In all, 17 per cent of the elderly units are single member households and 12 per cent are the husband–wife, two member households. The single member households are 23 per cent among the widowers and 29 per cent among widows. Thirty per cent of the couples live by themselves. An ideal nuclear family is one in which the husband, wife and unmarried children live together. When one partner dies the family may still be referred to as the nuclear family; but it is depleted. They may range from two–member to multi-member households. The two-member depleted nuclear households could be: (widower) father and unmarried son, (widower) father and unmarried daughter, (widow) mother and unmarried son, and (widow) mother and unmarried daughter. Strictly there are 28 per cent nuclear families, and 8 per cent and 6 per cent depleted nuclear households of widowed fathers and mothers respectively with their unmarried children. Including the husband–wife households, the majority of the elderly couples (58 per cent) are in nuclear families or couple households.
The joint families could be lineal or collateral. Both could be of varying depths too. A lineal joint family is one which comprises the parents and their married son or sons. There may be unmarried children or grandchildren living with them. The prevalence of joint families is determined by the living arrangement of couples. Joint family does not appear to be a common family arrangement in rural Tamilnadu. Only 15.22 per cent of the families covered by the study are joint families. Among the joint families in this study, the predominant pattern is the lineal joint family in which the elderly live with their married sons with or without their unmarried children or grandchildren.
There are some interesting living arrangements. Three widows who live with their married daughters have their brothers as their sons-in-law and one lives with her brother who is also her son-in-law. In the latter household, the daughter is no more, but there are grandchildren and great grandchildren. One elderly widower lives with his widowed sister who is also his mother-in-law. A detailed analysis of living arrangement presents many family types of the elderly in Tamilnadu. Some of the living arrangements are elderly widower and his sister’s son; elderly widower and his father’s brother’s wife; aged widow and her brother-in-law’s daughter-in-law; older woman and her father’s sister; elderly widow and her sister’s widowed son; old widow and her grand old mother; and two or three old widows. The most typical joint family in the Tamilnadu villages is the lineal joint family. And that again is becoming a family arrangement of the minority rather than the majority.
A minority of the older people are in large (8-9 members) and very large (10 or more members) households. They are nearly one in eight older persons. Only about one in twenty elderly households is very large. The household size of seven in ten elderly is five or less. Though only a seventh are living with their spouses, more than a fifth are in two-member households. They are predominantly so among the women. These are the depleted families of different kinship combinations. The small family size of the large majority of the aged strengthens the finding that the joint family system is not the common living arrangement in rural Tamilnadu.
Childless Older People
The married, childless elderly are more likely to have separate living arrangement with their spouses than living with others. Similarly, when the older persons are widowed, divorced or single and are without children, more of them tend to live alone. They are seven in ten among the married and three in five among the widowed, divorced and single. But more childless women than men in the latter category live alone. More widowed, divorced and single than married older persons live with other relatives.
Last Contact with a Child
Nine in ten elderly live with or saw a child in the last twenty four hours and this contact with a child is independent of sex. This is more or less consistent with the proximity of children. The elderly men and women who did not see a child within the past week are seven in hundred. One in twenty five older persons has not seen a child within a month and only one in hundred has not been in contact with a child during the past one year. The last contact between sons and daughters and their parents show drastic differences as the proximity of sons and daughters. While seven out of eight elderly persons have seen a son during the same day of the interview or previous day including those who live with them, only three in five have seen a daughter during that period. This is because considerably fewer daughters live with elderly parents than sons. But more daughters than sons who do not live with their parents have seen the parents within twenty four hours prior to the interview. One in eleven older persons has not seen a son during the past week in contrast to three in ten who have not seen a daughter during the past week. However many (nearly a fourth) older persons have seen their daughters eight days to about three months ago. Elderly men and women who had not seen a son during the past week do not differ significantly. But, older women who have not seen a daughter during this period are slightly in excess of older men. Interestingly, the proportions of old persons who saw a daughter or son six months ago or more are almost the same (around 4 per cent). The proximity between sons and parents seems to be closely reflected in the pattern of contact. But not between daughters and parents. In contrast to 24 per cent of the old persons living in close proximity of ten minutes or less of a daughter 32 per cent have seen a daughter the same day or the previous day. Daughters do compensate considerably their separation from parents.
Nearly seven out of every eight older people either live with a married child or have seen one within the last twenty four hours though only a half live with a married child. More are older women. In comparison with the contact between older persons and any child, the contact between the elderly and any married child is not at all disadvantageous to the old. In other words, marital status of the child has not brought any significant change in close contact between children and parents. A large percentage of married children who do not live with their parents are in close contact with them. One in nine old persons, however, has not seen a married child within a week. Among this small group of elderly persons, old men are in greater disadvantage than old women.
Eighty four per cent of the older persons have seen a married son within the past twenty four hours, while only 55 per cent have seen a married daughter within that short period. But the latter proportion is very impressive considering the low proportion living with a married daughter. While 16 per cent of the older persons have a married daughter living with them, 39 per cent have seen a daughter the same day or the previous day of the interview. Compensation of separation by close contact is seen among the sons as well. The compensation phenomenon is further evident from the fact that as against 28 per cent of the married daughters living within 10-minute distance from their parents, 39 per cent have seen a daughter within the last 24 hours. The difference between sons and daughters in their living arrangement and proximity is also clearly seen in the pattern of contact between parents, and their sons and daughters. While nearly two in five older persons have not seen a married daughter within the past week, only one in nine has remained out of contact with a married son for more than a week.
It has already been seen that when parents do not live with children there is a marked tendency for compensation by close contact. This tendency is not weakened in any manner when children get married. But will the difference in marital status of the older person affect the pattern of contact? More widowed than the married live with a child as well as a married child. More of the former are also in close proximity to their married child. But taking into consideration the children who live close by, the married do not differ from the widowed in their close proximity to children. Though more widowed than the married share a household with a child as well as with a married child, strikingly more married than the widowed are compensated by contact with any child as well as any married child during the past 24 hours. Thus the widowed and the married who live with and saw a child the same day or the previous day of the interview are in equal proportions. And the former are only slightly in excess of the latter in their contact with a married child are over whelmingly greater in proportion than the latter.
Let us now look at the married and the widowed who have been deprived of recent contact with a child as well as a married child. Recent contact with a child or the lack of it is not influenced in any way by the marital status of the old parent. But, it does influence to a minimal extent the contact between a married child and the parents. The widowed are in a slightly better position than the married in close contact with their married children because slightly more married (13 per cent) than the widowed (9 per cent) have seen a married child only over a week ago or more.
The above conclusion leads to the question as to what are the differences in contact between widows and widowers with their married sons and daughters? There is no significant difference between widows and widowers, in their recent contact (within twenty four hours or within a week) or otherwise (more than a week) with a married son. But a slight difference is noticeable between widows and widowers in their last contact with a married daughter. More widows than widowers have seen a married daughter within the past twenty four hours which is because of the fact that more widows than widowers have a married daughter living with them. But this difference is reduced by the contact between the widowers and their married daughters within the last week. There is no difference between the proportions of widows and widowers who have not seen a married daughter within the past week.
We have already seen that children to a great extent compensate their separate living from parents by close contact. More than seven in ten who live apart from a child have seen one of them on the same day of the interview or the previous day. Nearly four in five have been in contact with a child during the past week. However, living away from the children has serious frustrations too. A fifth have seen a child only more than a week ago or more. More married than widowed are in recent contact with a child. More older persons who live by themselves have seen a child recently than those who live with other relatives. More than 70 to 80 per cent of them have seen a child within 24 hours prior to the interview. Among them again, more elderly couple than elderly men and women who live alone have seen a child during the past week. The most disadvantaged are the widowed who live with other relatives. More than three in ten of them have not seen a child even during the past month.
Contact with Siblings
Though contact with brothers and sisters is emotionally satisfying to persons of all ages, it is greatly valued by the older people. Brothers and sisters integrate the old into the larger kinship network. Next to children, siblings are the chief source of support in old age. Most of the nearly five per cent of the old men and women who live with a sibling have either joined a sibling after the death of the spouse or the widowed siblings have joined the older men and women. What is significant is that more than two in five older persons have seen a brother or a sister within twenty four hours before the interview. Quite significantly older men who had seen a sibling during this short period exceed old women by as large as 25 per cent. Including the siblings who are in the households of the old persons more than a half of the old persons had seen a sibling within the past week. They are two in three old men in sharp contrast to slightly more than two in five old women.
What is strikingly significant is that 46 per cent of the older people (48 per cent men and 38 per cent women) do not have any of their siblings in their village and yet, the vast majority of the old men have seen a sibling recently. Contact between siblings and older persons will be influenced by the birth order of the old person, the sex and marital status of the old person and the siblings, whether the old person has children or not, and the place of residence of the sibling. The oldest are more often visited by their younger siblings. The childless, widowed old persons are more likely to be visited by siblings than others. Brothers more often visited their siblings than sisters. The housebound, bedridden and the sick are more frequently contacted by the siblings than others.
One reason for the significantly fewer women who have seen a sibling recently is that many women after marriage might not have been in constant contact with their siblings as the data on sibling contact and marital status reveals. For every one married woman who had seen a sibling recently, there are two married men. What is of considerable significance is the extent of the integration of the married older men despite the fact that the fraternal joint family is almost a disappearing phenomenon as seen from the study. While the majority have frequent contact with a sibling, a fourth have not seen a brother or a sister during the past six months and nearly a fifth have not seen a sibling even during the last year. The elderly women who have not seen a brother or a sister for one year are double the elderly men.
So far we have discussed the contact between older people and their children. So also the contact between the aged and their brothers and sisters. Let us now examine the overall family contact in old age. Are the old integrated into the wider kinship or segregated from it? Integration of the older persons into the large family system is the direct conclusion. Most older men and women either live with or saw a child within the past week. Children are the integrating link between the aged and the larger family. Siblings and relatives not only reinforce these links but also substitute when the aged do not have children or do not have recent contact with children. Most of those who have not seen a child within the past week or who do not have children live with a sibling or a relative or have seen one of them within the past week. Siblings and relatives do compensate, in most cases, the lack of children or the lack of frequent contact between the older persons and their children.
Eighty one per cent of the older people who have not seen a child in the past week and eighty six per cent who do not have surviving children live with or saw a sibling or a relative in the past week. Thus ninety seven per cent of the aged are closely linked to the kinship structure through joint living and frequent contact. The older persons who are deprived of any form of recent family contact, though small, are not insignificant. They are three in hundred. They are not a negligible group. A few have none: either children, siblings or relatives. A highly relevant aspect of family relations is the family contact of the older people who are not living with a child. They include the old who are childless too. How well are they integrated? The majority (nearly three in five) have seen a child in the past week. Siblings and relatives compensate childlessness and lack of frequent contact with children in most cases.
More than a third have either a sibling or a relative with them or have seen one recently. The compensation is seen very pronouncedly among older women. Earlier we have seen that recent contact between siblings and the elderly is more among men than women. But Table 3.5 explains that when the older women live away from children, their siblings seem to show greater concern. Though older men than women have seen a child in the past week, the deficiency in percentage among older women is compensated by more siblings seeing their aged sisters. In all, more than nine in ten older men and women who, though not living with a child, have been integrated into the wide family network by contact with children, siblings and other relatives. The segregated are one in fifteen.
Family Care in Incapacity and Illness
Many older persons are found to have varying levels of incapacity in performing personal tasks. Of them, how many, who are in total difficulty to do personal tasks, receive help from the family? How many of them who were sick in bed received family care and who attended on them? These are the two indicators used to measure the extent of family care to the elderly in infirmity and illness.
Let us first examine the help in performing personal tasks. Most of the older people have persons, both in and outside the households, to help them in all personal tasks which they find it hard to do by themselves even with difficulty. Barring some older persons who report that they have nobody to assist them in moving about the house (one woman), going up and down stairs (3 men and 7 women), going outdoors (2 women) and cutting toe nails (11 men and 36 women), possibly because most of them are not living with children or other relatives, the elderly have familial and even neighbourhood resources to depend on in performing the different tasks. Neighbours and friends are not confined to help in going out or climbing steps. A few of them help the older people even in bathing and in going to the toilet. It is important to note that for the most intimate personal and daily necessities–going to toilet, bathing and dressing –none of the elderly are without any assistance.
For older married men, the wives are available to assist them in doing intimate personal tasks. Children, children-in-law and grandchildren help the elderly in performing their close personal tasks. There are households where even sons help the old mothers in bathing and going to toilet. A considerable proportion of older persons (around a fourth) get outside help for outdoor tasks like going out and walking up and down stairs or steps. A characteristic feature of village India is the chiropody service available at the door from the caste barber; and four–fifths of the older men and two-fifths of the older women reporting inability to cut toe nails depend on this service. Long and crooked toe nails, though they are painful and affect free movement, are taken for granted. Therefore, relatively more older persons report that no one helps them in cutting toe nails.
The older persons who were sick in bed during the past twelve months were asked to mention the main person who prepared meals, served food, gave medicines, washed the clothes and attended to other things. The care of the elderly who were sick in bed during the past twelve months reveals both gratifying and disturbing facts, gratifying because family service was available to most of the elderly and disturbing because there are evidences of neglect of the sick elderly, though in a few cases. One in seventeen had to manage most of the things by themselves or had not been in receipt of substantial or any attention from anyone, and one in sixteen had to depend on friends, neighbours and others outside the household. More of them are women. Three-fourths of these disadvantaged older men and women are living alone. The vast majority of the old people who are living alone are helped by children, relations and others outside the household. Yet for more than a fourth there was no external help. They had to nurse themselves. More older men than women were put to such difficulty while they were sick in bed. For older men who live with their wives care was not a problem. The wives took care of them. Only one in seven had to depend on outside assistance. Their sources of help were the children or the children-in-law. But the majority of the older women living with their husbands only had to depend upon children, other relations and others living outside. A few had none to help; they are an eighth of the older women living with their husbands. The presence of children in the house did not mean total attention during illness for all the elderly men and women. One in fourteen had to seek help from children outside or to contend with self–help. More older women were subject to such experience during their sickness than older men. A sizeable number of older persons, particularly older women, who live away from children had to look for help from children and other relatives outside. The principal source of help for older men in times of sickness was the wife. Fifty six per cent of them were nursed by their wives in sharp contrast to three per cent of women. Nursing care of older women was done by children and their spouses in the majority of the households. Children, even when they live away from parents, are important sources of help during illness.
Having discussed the care of the older people during illness, it is important to find out their general care such as cooking meals, doing light households tasks like tidying the house, washing utensils, etc., and doing heavy household tasks like washing floors, washing clothes, fetching water, etc. More than a third prepare meals, nearly two-fifths do light household tasks and more than a fourth do heavy household tasks either by themselves or along with other members of the household. The elderly men doing these tasks are a sizeable minority. These tasks, except washing their clothes, are not customarily done by men. So the contingency of doing these tasks may be necessitated by living alone or indifferent health of the wife, if living with wife only or absence of a female member in the household in other living arrangements other than living alone or living with spouse only. Some may be assisting their wives when only they two are together or assisting other younger members of the family in households without a woman to manage the household affairs.
The vast majority of the older men have their wives to do cooking and housework. But the majority of the older women are totally self–sufficient or only partly dependent on others in cooking and doing light household tasks. Nearly three-fifths cook their meals by themselves or with the help of others and nearly two thirds do light household tasks. But only fewer, though substantially large in proportion (two–fifths), could do heavy household tasks. The performance of these household functions, solely or in partnership with other members of the household or even outside the household reflect many aspects. Firstly, they are the only persons available in the households to do these or capable of these particularly when they are living alone or with their husbands only or their young unmarried children. Secondly, they may still be the prime figures in household management even when they live with their grown–up or married children. Thirdly, the elderly may be required to do these in return for their maintenance by children or other members of the household. Fourthly, there are elderly persons who do these tasks to have the feeling of usefulness as an active member of the household. Yet, there are a large number of older women who are not doing these tasks: more than one in three in light household tasks and three in five in heavy household work. These tasks are taken care of by other members in the household or even outside the household as letting the old women “now just relax having worked all through their lives”, as the common saying goes on in the villages.
For the majority of the elderly men, wives cook their meals and do light and heavy household tasks for them. In the case of elderly women, assistance from husband is a rarity, not only because of widowhood but also because it is almost an unusual practice for the Indian husbands, and that too in the villages, to do so. In preparing meals, and in doing light and heavy household tasks, the daughter and daughter-in-law figure prominently. More than sixty per cent of the older persons have a daughter or a daughter-in-law or other relatives in the household to do the different tasks. Help from daughters or daughters-in-law or other relatives outside the household are also available for the elderly, more for heavy household tasks, less for light household tasks and still less for preparing meals. Even neighbours, friends and others outside the household in substantial number help the elderly in their heavy and light household tasks. To the elderly men and women, who are not preparing meals and doing light and heavy household tasks by themselves or who are doing along with others in the household, was asked whether they would be able to do by themselves. Nearly a half (47 per cent) would not be able to do light household tasks. And nearly three-fourths (72 per cent) would not be in a position to do heavy household tasks.
While more elderly men than women say that they cannot do light household tasks by themselves in case situations arise, there is not any significant difference between men and women in reporting their inability to do heavy household tasks. Elderly men have an additional handicap compared with women in that more than a third (37 per cent) do not even know how to cook themselves either due to inability or ignorance. It is also seen clearly that the inability to prepare their own meals and to do light and heavy household tasks increases with age. Thus the level of dependence of the aged on the family (persons in and outside the household) is significantly considerable.
Status of the Aged in Family
It is popularly believed that in old age most people lose their authority in the family and the decline in authority is normally consistent with increase in age. The assumption is that in old age more people will cease to become earners and many who earn will earn less than what they used to earlier. Therefore, the decline in financial control of the household will alter their status in the family. Retirement, incapacity, illness and other factors would accentuate the lowering of status in the family. Certain crude measures are used to test whether the status of the older people in the family is on the decline. These are (a) who is the head of the household and (b) do married children seek the elder’s advice. The status of the aged, for justifiable reasons, refers to the status of the older men and not women. Eighty four per cent of the older men who live with children or other relatives say that they are the heads of the households. On analysis, it is found that this assertion is directly related to the contribution of the elderly to the household coffer. The assessment of their position by the older men could be real or titular. It could also be the conventional practice of considering the senior most person as the head of the household whether he is so or not in reality.
The responses to the question whether married children seek the advice of fathers show that only a minority (a fourth) are approached for advice by married children. Work is the main problem for which children often seek the advice of their elderly fathers (54 per cent). Seeking financial help and advice on financial matters are the next major issues (32 per cent). Some children (16 per cent) approach their fathers to resolve the conflict between them and their spouses. Ill- health and treatment of members of the family (10 per cent), education, marriage and other problems of children (9 per cent), and property deals (7 per cent) are the other important matters that married children discuss with their parents. The data clearly offers evidence to the independence and autonomy of the married children in most of the families and their capacity to function themselves independent of parental guidance. It also indicates the role reduction of the aged in parent – child relations in most instances.
The older men and women also were asked to express their opinion on two statements which indicated their feelings to their status in the family. The first is on younger generation and the second on the presence of the aged in families. Most of the older men and women (92 per cent) say that when they were young the words of the elders were final, but now-a-days young people seldom listen to the advice of elders. This opinion of the aged does not seem to take cognizance of the changing social structure and the changing roles and expectations. This is natural. At the same time, a disturbing point is the opinion of 36 per cent of the older men and women that most families do not like to have older people around. This opinion may be a reflection of their personal experience or the observation of the experiences of other older people.
Ideal Living Arrangement
Though older persons are found in different household types, which, according to them, is the most suitable living arrangement for people in their old age? To what extent, do older people prefer their present living arrangement? No family arrangement has an overwhelming preference. In order of frequency, the first preference is for the impossible, romantic ideal; that is, to live with all married and unmarried children. More older men that women opt for this arrangement. Our expectation that most older people would prefer living with a married son has been contradicted. Only less than a quarter prefer that family arrangement, and older men opting for that are considerably fewer. Joint family is not only not the typical household in rural Tamil Nadu, but is also the less preferred ideal. Those who prefer to live with a married daughter are very few. So also are those who prefer to live only with unmarried children. It is quite natural for the old not to envisage living with a married daughter as the ideal living arrangement. A substantial proportion prefers the husband- wife household. Quite strikingly, older men who are in favour of this living arrangement are more than double the older women preferring so. Many older persons and more so women suggest that the old should be with one who would take good care of them; the blood relationship or kinship is immaterial. One in nine older persons say so. Fewer older people prefer to live alone. The proportion of older women who think that in old age people should be away from all relatives is double that of older men. Institutionalization of the aged is suggested by a negligible number of elderly persons. On the whole, only less than sixty per cent consider living with children, married or unmarried, as the ideal living arrangement for older people; older men opting so are fewer than women. This is quite an unexpected finding in contrast to the romantic description of the family life of the elderly in Indian villages. A significant question that arises is to what extent do older people prefer their present living arrangement? Only less than a fourth who now live alone suggest that as the ideal living arrangement for the old. Old men are fewer than old women.
People normally do not prefer segregation or isolation, unless compelling reasons necessitate. On the contrary, nearly two-thirds of those who live with the spouses only prefer that living arrangement for the aged. And quite significantly, older women preferring so exceed older men, though only slightly. Those who live with a married son now suggesting that as the ideal living arrangement for people in old age are in a minority. And older men are considerably fewer than older women: nearly three in ten men in contrast to about one in two women. Still much fewer are the old people now living with a married daughter suggesting that as the household arrangement for the elderly. Only one in nine, who are with their unmarried children, says that such an arrangement would be the most suitable when people grow old. Particularly fewer older men think so. The present living arrangement, thus, has pleasant and unpleasant, positive and negative, influence on the preference for the ideal family arrangement for people in their latter life. Barring the husband-wife household, none of the present patterns of living arrangement are favoured by the majority of the old persons now living so.
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