Abstract

The elderly in the rural areas of India are suffering due to separation or loneliness resulting from urbanization and emergence or increase of nuclear families. Within the elderly population individuals differ, not only in their socio-demographic, economic and health characteristics, but also by their gender roles in various aspects of life. This paper explores the gender differences of the rural elderly population in their socio-demographic, economic and health characteristics in Madurai district, Tamil Nadu. The data, collected from 160 elderly persons in four villages of the Madurai district selected through a disproportionate stratified random based on the number of households, reveal that most of the rural elderly males were older and married, while most elderly females were widowed. Elderly males mostly lived with their spouses and elderly females with their children. Marital status was found to be the most positive significant variable to an increase in economic wellbeing of the rural elderly, and living arrangements were found to be a significant negative one. The elderly suffer either by not receiving sufficient economic support, physical support, or both to some extent. This is due to a rising cost of living, less or no reliable employment opportunities in the village, and increasing nuclear families. They opined that the government should provide employment opportunities for the elderly, as well as other educational and health infrastructural facilities for their children in their rural localities, and that the government should accelerate the eligibility criteria and proper implementation of an old-age pension scheme. Elderly people requested this so that rural-urban movement of their children could be stopped to ensure their economic and physical supports for the long run.

Introduction

In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of older persons worldwide (Hafez, 2000) and more old people are alive nowadays than at any time in history (McMurdo, 2000). The proportion of the population 60 years and over is also growing each year. By the year 2025, the world will have 1.2 billion people aged 60 and over, which will rise to 1.9 billion in 2050 (United Nations, 2003).

The increasing importance of the studies on ageing and senior citizens has been emphasized by a series of national and international conferences and seminars. In India, over the past two decades a number of studies have focused on one or more issues of ageing (De Souza, 1981; Desai, 1982; Bhatia, 1983; Sahayam, 1988; Reddy, 1990; National Sample Survey Organisation, 1991; Chandra, et al., 1993; Chakraborty, 1993; Mahanta, 1993; Singh, et al., 1994; Asharaf, 1995; Audinarayana, et al., 1996; Rajan, et al., 1999).

India has not yet come out with an appropriate policy framework to provide social security for the elderly. According to projections by the UN Population Division, there will be two elderly persons for every child in the world by 2050. This implies that those aged 60 and above, which currently constitute less than 20% of the population, will account for 32% of the population by 2050. This growth in the size and share of the elderly population will affect many aspects of economic development, including national labor forces. Many older people have no savings, low wages, a lack of job security, poor health, no economic support from their children, just enough earnings to make ends meet, and little help from their friends and communities.

Gender is an important aspect of ageing in part because women predominate among the elderly; lower mortality among women has resulted in an imbalance in the sex ratio among older persons in almost all countries, with women out numbering men particularly among the oldest people. (Mason, 2001). Gender also influences the relative access of older men and women to family assets both before and after the death of a spouse (Rahman et al., 2009).

Economic well-being depends both on the ability of current income and in-kind services to meet consumption needs and on future income flows, assets, and insurance holdings that can be drawn upon to cover the costs of uncertain contingencies (Hurd and Rohwedder, 2006; Danigelis and McIntosh, 2001). In addition, economic satisfactions also vary by gender. Higher economic satisfaction generally leads to higher life satisfaction particularly in a country where most of the people are living below the poverty line. In terms of financial satisfaction, males experience more economic satisfaction than females. Generally, males enjoy more independence and financial security than females.

In the recent past, studies were carried out on different dimensions on the elderly. Doris Padmins, et al. (2010) studied economic wellbeing and morbidity aspects. Danigelis and McIntosh (2001) and Rahman, et. al. (2010) examined gender and economic support whereas Rao (2007) studied economic and financial aspects of ageing in India. Keeping these in view, an attempt has been made in this paper to study the economic satisfaction of the elderly in rural Tamilnadu, which is specifically focused on the Madurai district.

Objectives

The primary objectives of this paper are: (1) to study the socio-demographic, economic and household characteristics of the rural elderly population; (2) to explore gender differentials of the rural elderly population in their socio-demographic, economic and household characteristics; and (3) to understand the relationship of socio-demographic and household characteristics with economic satisfaction of the rural elderly population.

Data and Method

The Madurai district has been chosen for the study. The rationale behind selecting this district is that the share of the elderly in the district is closer (8.5%) to that of Tamil Nadu (8.8%). This district is an average district in most of the demographic, socio-economic and health characteristics. There are seven Taluks in Madurai district namely (1) Madurai North, (2) Madurai South, (3) Melur, (4) Peraiyur, (5) Thirumangalam, (6) Usilampatti, and (7) Vadipatti, according to the 2011 Census. Taluk or Tahsil in Hindi is an administrative division that consists of a city or town that serves as its headquarters, possibly additional towns, and a number of villages. Based on the number of villages, Madurai North Taluk was selected because it was found to have more villages compared to other Taluks. There were 186 villages in Madurai North Taluk. Out of these villages, the following four were selected through a disproportionate stratified random sampling: (1) Samayanallur, (2) Tiruppalai, (3) Narasingam, and (4) Kodikulam. These four had more households compared to other villages in the Taluk. The required data for this study were collected from 160 elderly people (60 years and above) from four villages of the Madurai district of Tamil Nadu. The study participants were comprised of 80 males and 80 females who were contacted through household surveys and personal interviews, with the help of a well-administrated and pre-tested interview schedule.

In today's society, age-based prejudices and discrimination are firmly embedded. Therefore, the word like 'elderly' has in itself acquired a negative connotation. For practical purposes, we define elderly as those people who have crossed a given life span, 65 years in developed countries and 60 years in developing countries like India. As the Government of India as well as the Government of Tamil Nadu recommends the welfare programmes for the elderly to those who are 60 years and above, this study also considers the same age criteria for its respondents.

The data collected from the household survey were age, sex, religion, caste, marital status, completed years of education, family income, and ownership of the house, toilet and bathroom facilities. The items of information collected through personal interview were the level of physical and economic support from their children, level of their satisfaction in getting such supports, and their present need and perception for their happy survival. The data were evaluated and analysed using SPSS Software. A multivariate technique named multiple linear regression analysis was used to assess the effect of several variables on economic satisfaction of the elderly population. Content analysis was done to capture the perception of the elderly on the availability of economic and physical support from their children and the level of their satisfaction.

Results and Discussion

The demographic and social characteristics, economic characteristics, and household characteristics and their association with economic wellbeing of the rural elderly are discussed in detail with the help of results obtained through bi-variate and multiple linear regression analyses. Elderly people's perception of the availability of economic and physical support from their children and the level of their satisfaction are also discussed.

Demographic and Social Characteristics

The demographic and social characteristics such as age, marital status, religion, caste, educational status, and living arrangement are discussed in this section. It was found from Table 1 that more than half of the respondents were old (60-69 years) followed by older (70-79 years) (35 %) and oldest (80 years and above) (14 %). Though the same trends can be seen among males and females, more males were older (36 %) and more females were old (51 %) and oldest (15 %). This indicates that most of the elderly do not live to the category we have named "oldest," and the elderly females live longer as compared to male elderly.

Table 1. Demographic and social characteristics of the rural elderly
Demographic and
Social Characteristics
Male (N=80) Female (N=80) Total (N=160)
N % N % N %
Age
60-69 40 50.0 41 51.2 81 50.6
70-79 29 36.2 27 33.8 56 35.0
80+ 11 13.8 12 15.0 23 14.4
Marital status
Married 66 82.5 11 13.7 77 48.1
Widowed 14 17.5 69 86.3 83 51.9
Religion





Muslims 5 6.2 19 23.7 24 15.0
Hindus 67 83.8 60 75.0 127 79.4
Christians 8 10.0 1 1.3 9 5.6
Caste
SC/ST 22 27.4 16 20.0 38 23.8
MBC 5 6.3 7 8.8 12 7.4
BC 40 50.0 43 53.8 83 51.9
FC 13 16.3 14 17.6 27 16.9
Educational status
Illiterate 30 37.5 41 51.3 71 44.4
Primary 26 32.5 30 37.4 56 35.0
High school & above 24 30.0 9 11.3 33 20.6
Occupation
Not Working/Housewife 32 40.0 63 78.8 95 59.4
Agriculture 18 22.4 10 12.5 28 17.5
Industry 21 26.3 5 6.2 26 16.3
Business 9 11.3 2 2.5 11 6.8
Living arrangement
Living alone 7 8.8 15 18.7 22 13.8
Living with spouse 50 62.4 12 15.0 62 38.8
Living with children 23 28.8 53 66.3 76 47.4

Source: Computed from Primary Data

As far as the marital status of the respondents is concerned, more than half of them (52 %) were widowed. Most of the male respondents were married (83 %) and most of the female respondents were widowed (86 %). As many of the male elderly happen to die earlier than their wives, the female elderly live longer after the death of their spouses.

About 80 % of the respondents belonged to Hindu religion, followed by Muslim (15 %), and Christian (6 %) religions. The same trend has been noticed among elderly females. The percentage of elderly males was more in Hindu (84 %) and Christian (10 %) religions as compared to elderly females (75 % and 1 % respectively), which indicates the predominant position of Hindus as it prevails at the national level also.

More than half of the respondents (52 %) belonged to Backward Caste (BC), followed by Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) (24 %), Forward Caste (FC) (17 %), and Most Backward Caste (MBC) (7 %). Though the same trend can be seen among males and females, more males were there in SC/ST (27 %) and more females in BC (54 %), FC (18 %) and MBC (9 %).

The majority of the respondents (44 %) were illiterate, followed by educated up to primary level (35 %), and educated through high school and above (21 %). Though the same trend has been noticed among males and females, more females were illiterate (51 %) and educated up to primary levels (37 %), as compared to males (38 % and 33 % respectively). More males were educated through high school and above (30 %) as compared to females (11 %). This shows the existence of traditional gender difference in the level of education attained that exists in the country in general, though the magnitude of difference has been narrowed to a greater extent.

The majority of the respondents lived with their children (47 %), followed by respondents who lived with their spouses (39 %) and those who lived alone (14 %). While examining the gender difference in the living arrangement of the respondents, it was found that most of the respondents (62 %) lived with their spouses and most of the female respondents lived with their children (66 %) and lived alone (19 %) as compared to their counterparts.

Economic Characteristics

The economic characteristics such as occupation, income source, average monthly income, and economic status of the respondents are discussed in this section (Table 2). About 60% of the respondents were not engaged in any work, followed by those who were engaged in agriculture (18 %), industry (16 %) and business (7 %). The same trend has been noticed as far as the female respondents are concerned. Among male respondents, most engaged in industry (26 %), agriculture (22 %) and business (11 %) as compared to female respondents (6 %, 13 %, and 3 % respectively).

Table 2. Economic characteristics of the rural elderly
Economic Characteristics Male (N=80) Female (N=80) Total (N=160)
N % N % N %
Occupation
Not Working/Housewife 32 40.0 63 78.8 95 59.4
Agriculture 18 22.4 10 12.5 28 17.5
Industry 21 26.3 5 6.2 26 16.3
Business 9 11.3 2 2.5 11 6.8
Respondents' income source
Wealth 15 18.8 12 15.0 27 16.8
Occupation 48 60.0 17 21.3 65 40.6
Pension 35 43.8 43 53.7 78 48.8
Children 45 56.2 57 71.3 102 63.8
Respondents' monthly income
No income source 1 1.3 10 12.5 11 6.9
Up to Rs. 3000 28 35.0 56 70.0 84 52.5
Rs. 3001 — Rs. 5000 45 56.3 11 13.8 56 35.0
Rs. 5001 & above 6 7.4 3 3.7 9 5.6
Households' monthly income
Up to Rs. 3000 11 13.8 23 28.8 34 21.2
Rs. 3001 — Rs. 5000 32 40.0 30 37.5 62 38.8
Rs. 5001 & above 37 46.2 27 33.7 64 40.0
Economic status
Independent 20 25.0 7 8.8 27 16.9
Partially Dependent 45 56.2 57 71.2 102 63.7
Fully Dependent 15 18.8 16 20.0 31 19.4

Source: Computed from Primary Data

The majority of the elderly reported that the source of their income was their children (64 %), followed by pension (49 %), occupation (41 %) and wealth (17 %). Though the same trend prevails among both male and female elderly, the sources of income for most of the elderly males were occupation (60 %) and wealth (19 %), and of most of the elderly females were children (71 % and pension (54 %). More than half of the respondents had an average monthly income up to Rs. 3000/- (53 %), followed by Rs. 3001-5000 (35 %), no income (7 %) and Rs. 5001 and above (6 %). Most of the male respondents had an average monthly income Rs. 3001-5000 (56 %) and Rs. 5001 and above (7 %), and most of the female respondents has average monthly income up to Rs. 5000 and (70 %) no income (13 %). Forty percent of the respondents had a household monthly income of above Rs. 5000/- followed by respondents who had Rs. 3001-5000 (39 %), and upto Rs. 3000/- (21 %). The same trend can be seen among both male and female respondents. While observing the gender difference, more males (86 %) had average monthly income of above Rs. 3000/- and more females (29 %) had upto Rs. 3000/-. The economic status of the respondents was determined based on their dependency level. It was found that only 17 % of the respondents were independent, but the majority of the respondents were partially dependent (64 %), followed by fully dependent (19 %). While observing the gender difference in dependency level, the same trend is associated with female respondents. But more male respondents were independent (25 %) compared to female respondents (9 %).

Household Characteristics

Head of the family, house type, house ownership, drinking-water facility, bath-room facility, toilet facility and cooking fuel used by the elderly are discussed in this section (Table 3). Headship of the family gives prestige and decision making power to the elderly. It was found from the results that more than half of the elderly (57 %) were head of the family, followed by children (36 %) and spouses (6 %). Suiting to the prevalent belief, 85 % of the male elderly were head of the family as compared to elderly females. And among elderly females, 59 % of their children were the head of the family.

Table 3. Household characteristics of the rural elderly
Household Characteristics Male (N=80) Female (N=80) Total (N=160)
N % N % N %
Family Head
Self 68 85.0 24 30.0 92 57.4
Spouse 1 1.2 9 11.2 10 6.3
Children 11 13.8 47 58.8 58 36.3
House Type
Hut 2 2.5 8 10.0 10 6.2
Kutcha 44 55.0 39 48.8 83 51.9
Pucca 34 42.5 33 41.2 67 41.9
House ownership
Own house 59 73.8 43 53.8 102 63.8
Rented house 21 26.2 37 46.2 58 36.2
Drinking-water facility
Street Tap 47 58.7 51 63.7 98 61.2
Own Tap 33 41.3 29 36.3 62 38.8
Bath-room facility
Open/Public 27 33.7 23 28.8 50 31.2
with house 53 66.3 57 71.2 110 68.8
Toilet facility
Open/Public 25 31.2 27 33.8 52 32.5
with house 55 68.8 53 66.2 108 67.5
Cooking fuel
Firewood 28 35.0 21 26.3 49 30.6
Kerosene 17 21.3 22 27.4 39 24.4
Cooking Gas (LPG) 35 43.7 37 46.3 72 45.0

Source: Computed from Primary Data

The house structure, generally, is based on the economic condition of the family. More than half of the respondents lived in kutcha houses (52 %), followed by those who lived in pucca houses and huts (6 %). As far as the male respondents are concerned, though the same trend prevails among male and female respondents, more male respondents lived in kutcha (55 %) and pucca (43 %) houses as compared to female respondents (49 % and 41 % respectively). And more female respondents lived in huts (10 %) as compared to male respondents (3 %).

House ownership for elderly people gives them respect and protection from the family members. It was found from the results that the majority of the respondents were owners of their houses (64 %), as opposed to those who rented houses (36 %). More male respondents owned houses (74 %), and more female respondents lived in rented house (71 %).

Availability of drinking-water facility has on significant impact on health of the elderly and their family members. Majority of the elderly used water available through street-tap as against own tap (39 %). Sixty-nine percent of the elderly had a bathroom facility within the house, as opposed to elderly people who had the facilities outside the house as open/public (33 %). The majority of the elderly had toilet facility within the house (68 %), as opposed to respondents who had the facility outside the house (33 %). As far as the cooking fuel used by the elderly is concerned, the majority of the respondents used LPG cooking gas (45 %), followed by firewood (31 %), and kerosene (24 %), indicating a modern trend.

Table 4 presents the results of the multiple linear regression analysis. The results demarcate the relationship between socio-demographic characteristics and economic status of the elderly. It was found from the analysis that marital status of the rural elderly has been the most positive significant variable to an increase in economic well-being (Beta = 0.535) and family type (Beta = 0.398), whereas, the variable living arrangement was found to be the most negative significant factor (Beta = -0.397), followed by education (Beta = -0.202). Variables like gender, age and working status were also found to be positive (beta value), indicating an increase in these variables towards economic wellbeing.

Table 4. Multiple Linear Regression Model
Variables Un-standardized Coefficients Standardized Coefficients
Beta
t Sig.
B Std. Error
(Constant) 3066.416 2058.491
1.490 .139
Age -713.868 347.269 -.177 -2.056 .042
Gender -1130.988 536.477 -.184 -2.108 .037
Religion -88.000 390.762 -.021 -.225 .822
Community -218.343 295.659 -.069 -.738 .462
Marital status 3055.854 687.199 .535 4.447 .000
Family type 2438.472 996.940 .398 2.446 .016
Living arrangement -1643.437 659.487 -.397 -2.492 .014
Education -603.265 343.454 -.202 -1.756 .082
Occupation -1150.828 305.100 -.044 -2.494 .022

Note: Dependent variable: Income after age 60; R=0. 598; R Square=0. 358; Adjusted R Square=0. 306; F(6.816) = P=0.000.

Perceptions of the Elderly on Economic and Physical Support

This section discusses the perceptions of the elderly from the interviews regarding the availability of economic and physical supports from their children and the level of their satisfaction. The issues related to the availability of old-age pension and suggestions for improvement in their wellbeing are also discussed.

Lack of sufficient economic support

It was found that most of the elderly receive less or insufficient economic support from their children, which is due to the rising cost of living both at their level and at their children's level on the one hand, and agriculture-based employment giving irregular meager no income.

An elderly man, who has one son and one daughter but lost his wife, says, "My son has moved to Chennai. I am with my daughter. He sends some money once in two or three months or during festive occasions. But that money is not sufficient as the cost of living raised high and we do not have reliable or stable source of income."

Lack of physical support

The elderly also feel the level of their suffering due to lack of physical support is more than that of not having sufficient economic support from their children. Having children nearby during old age adds psychological strength and social prestige as far as the village culture is concerned. An unmarried elderly woman with one son, states:

My son is in abroad. He keeps sending us sufficient money regularly. But still I have a feeling of missing something. When I fall ill, I become mentally depressed due to lack of physical support. When I happen to approach my relatives or neighbours during emergencies I do not feel convenient and they see me deprived of something important. When I see old women like me are happy with their sons or daughters, in-laws and grand children, I feel I am not fortunate to be with my own dears.

Need of the for their economic well-being and satisfaction

It is well realized among the elderly in the study villages that they suffer more either because they do not receive sufficient support from their children residing separately but within the village, or receive sufficient economic support from the children residing outside the village but no physical support. They opined that as most of the towns and urban areas (irrespective of the states in the country) are capable of providing employment opportunities coupled with other infrastructural facilities, if the rural areas are also gradually boosted for such development activities with the help of government or voluntary organizations, the married sons/daughters need not leave the village where there parents are. If the elderly people's children would stay in the villages with their parents, elderly people would have access to both economic and physical supports from their children, thought the level of such supports may differ. An elderly man suggests:

We are in need of any reliable job which will help us to be self-reliant for our livelihood. If the employment opportunities are made available in our village like urban areas, our children also need not depart from us in search of job. Accelerating the eligibility criteria for availing old-age pension to all the elderly those who are 60 years and above and in need, will be a great help from the government side. There is a need to counsel the married sons who reside separately from their elderly parents and not care them.

This analysis shows that the elderly in the study villages suffer, either by not receiving economic support, physical support, or both. This is to some extent due to the rising cost of living, less or no reliable employment opportunities in the village, and increasing nuclear families—even in villages.

Findings, Suggestion and Conclusion

Most of the elderly were in the age-group 60-69 years, where more males were older and more females were old, which indicates the males' higher age than the females. More males were married and more females were widowed, which indicates women live longer than men. While observing the social characteristics of the elderly, more males were Hindus and Christians, and more females were Muslims. More males belonged to SC/ST, and more females belonged to BC. Most of the elderly females were educated up to the primary level, and most of the males were educated up to high school education and above, indicating a gender difference in education.

Most of the elderly males lived with their spouses, and most of the elderly females lived with their children. This implies the gender characteristics that the grandmothers are more closely associated with the family members, especially daughters and grandchildren, than the grandfathers who mostly feel comfortable with grandmothers.

More male elderly were engaged in industry and more female elderly were housewives and did not work. This indicates the traditional gender roles of males going out of the house for earning and females taking care of the household activities and children. The majority of the elderly males reported that the source of their income was occupation, as opposed to the elderly females whose income source was their children. This reveals the close association of elderly females with daughter-in-laws, grandchildren, and household activities, in contrast to elderly men. Most of the elderly men had an average monthly income Rs. 3001-5000, while most of the elderly females had an average monthly income upto Rs. 5000. In most of the informal sectors including agriculture, the wages of the males are higher than that of females in India—and villages of Madurai district are not exception to that. Most of the elderly males were independent as opposed to most of the elderly females who were partially dependent. This reveals the existence of traditional predominance of men handling money and important properties more so than women.

More males headed the family as compared females, whose families were headed by their children. Generally it is observed in Tamil Nadu and most of the Indian states that when the women happen to lose their husbands, their children take the lead and run the family. While more elderly males lived in kutcha houses, more elderly females lived in huts. More elderly males owned house and more elderly females lived in rented houses. More elderly females used water available through street-tap, and more elderly males used water from their own tap. While, more elderly females had bathroom facilities within the house, more elderly males had the facility outside the house. This implies that rural males prefer to go out for toilet or bathing, as the fields are open and irrigation ponds available. As far as the cooking fuel used by the elderly is concerned, more elderly females lived in the house using cooking LPG gas as compared to elderly males who mostly used firewood.

The marital status of the rural elderly has been the most positive significant variable to an increase in economic wellbeing, whereas, the variable living arrangement was found to be the most negative significant one. Variables like gender, age and working status have also been found to be positive, indicating an increase in these variables towards economic wellbeing.

The content analysis from the personal interviews reveals that the elderly suffer either by not receiving sufficient economic support, physical support, or both to some extent. This is due to the rising cost of living, less or no reliable employment opportunities in the village, and increasing nuclear families—even in villages. They need to be equipped with employment opportunities and other educational and health infrastructural facilities at the locality with the help of the initiatives of the government. The government needs to see the possibility of proper implementation of an old age pension scheme and other related programmes benefiting all the elderly people who are in need, irrespective of socio-economic criteria. The married children have to be made aware of the importance of caring for elderly parents and the legal provisions.

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