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Alive and Kicking —by Marilia D. Pereira

LauraHaapio-Kirk28 October 2018

The “Work 60+” group after their weekly meeting. Photo by Marilia D. Pereira

A PwC study (2013) forecasted that in 2040 57% of the economically productive population in Brazil would be older than 45 years old. The research listened to 100 companies to analyze how they are preparing to absolve this contingent. The executives said that the main barriers to work with old people were their lack of flexibility, their difficult to engage with technology and their incapability to keep themselves up-to-date. As a positive aspect, they highlighted the opportunities that an intergenerational team can achieve and the fact that old people are more mature, ethical and loyalty. 

From my informants’ perspective, I can say that work is a key issue to their self-steam and sociability. The dream of being retired with full time dedicated to themselves last for one or two years. After that, they feel incomplete and sometimes angry or guilty. Some of they engage in social work as volunteers, as Mauro (71) who teaches dance classes to old people in a catholic parish or Cleo (63) who works once a week in a public hospital helping patients with heart diseases. Others feel they still have a lot of energy but want to try something new. Marta (59), for example, said that at her age she just couldn’t consider herself old, or useless. Because of that, after retiring as a teaching, she became a certificated tourist guide and plans to keep working until her “mind is fine”, and her “body is strong”. John (77) also wants to keep himself productive. He said he feels guilty not to be working during the business hours and he needs to complement his incomes after retirement. He works as a consultant, but he recognizes that “job offers are becoming more and more scarce”. Robert (64) explain that this is the way things work, “companies want the Youngs, so you will be replaced when you become old”. That is the reason why he stopped looking for jobs as a sales manager and started working as an independent realtor and as a Uber driver even after he retired. 

While companies are closing doors to old people, they are creating their own opportunities. Some of them are becoming entrepreneurs as Wania Barreto (63), who is launching a Telemedicine start up, or Veronique Forrat (61) and Marta Monteiro (64), founders at Morar.com.vc, a startup that works as a match-making for people who want to live in cohouses. The cohousing idea was born during “The Reinvention of Work 60+” program, created by Lab 60+ to prepare old people to what they call “the second half of their professional lives”. In practice, the reinvention of work means the reinvention of old people themselves. Their methodology focuses not in their past occupation but in their skills and talents and how they can be useful to market demands. The collective “Work 60+” was also created after this program. Every Monday around 20 people older than 60 years old meet at my field site to discuss how they can offer their expertise to companies in a flexible model of work, more empathetic, collaborative and with fair remuneration. As one of the group founders explain “no one here is looking for a job, we just want to keep working, we want to be part of the game, we know we still have so much to offer”.   

But what could they offer? If we consider that the population over 50 years old is responsible for more than 34% of the annual consumption in Brazil and that 57% of them consider they can’t find products and services that fit their needs, we could say their insights are more valuable than ever. After all, who could know better how to achieve what the silver market needs than the old people themselves?

Conducting a health check in rural Japan

LauraHaapio-Kirk22 August 2018

Earlier this month I was invited to help in an annual health check in a rural town in Kochi prefecture. I had wanted to find a rural comparative site to my main fieldsite of Kyoto, so when Dr Yumi Kimura, a researcher at Osaka University, invited me to participate in the health check, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to establish myself in a rural community. I arrived in Kikuyama* on a Sunday afternoon along with my research assistant, Lise Sasaki, and about 50 other researchers, students, doctors, and dentists. The five-hour train and bus journey from Kyoto ran alongside sparkling clear turquoise rivers winding their way through lush mountains.

We were first briefly taken to a scenic spot to view rice terracing; breath-taking luminous green tumbling down the mountainside. But that was the limit of our sightseeing; we soon got down to business. We were expecting to welcome about 300 people to the health check over the next five days so we spent that Sunday afternoon preparing. The health check was to take place in a large hall adjacent to the town’s health clinic. We set up distinct areas for different kinds of medicine and tests, including areas for dentists, cardiologists, gynaecologists, mobility and dexterity tests, dementia tests, driving tests, blood tests, and a space for general practitioners to give consultations at the end of the visit. The area where Lise and I were stationed featured a machine called InBody which we used to measure body fat and muscle percentage.

The machine works by running a small electric current via electrodes placed on the fingers and ankles. Over the course of the week, while we attached and removed electrodes, we had a chance to chat with people about their health. This was a great opportunity to meet a large number of people in a short space of time and to establish myself as a known person to this community. Many were very surprised to see a foreigner, and some even asked to touch my hair, telling me it was the first time they had seen someone with fair hair and skin up close. Given the hectic nature of the health check we were only able to have long conversations with a few people, most were limited to about five to ten minutes. However, we managed to get a sense of the topics that were most insistent and frequently occurring in relation to health: work, food, luck, and community. Identification of these key topics will direct my conversations that are scheduled during my return trip in October, when I am planning to conduct more in-depth interviews and also do filming. Without participating in the health check I feel it would have taken much longer to build up trust with this rural community, especially as a foreigner, but now we have many invitations to visit people in their homes.

I will save a longer discussion of the above mentioned topics for a blog post after my second visit to the site, but for now I will briefly explain why the topic of work appears so pertinent to understanding how health is conceived in this community. Most people we met were rice farmers or foresters, often still working well into their 80s. The foresters had extremely big hands which were often missing fingers, and the rice farmers were deeply tanned from spending their days in the fields. This is hard work which leaves its mark on the body, yet when asked what is the secret to staying healthy and energetic (genki) in old age nearly everyone said that daily work is key. Men and women appeared to be equally committed to farming, while all of the foresters were male. For some farming had been a life-long career, and for others they had taken it up after retiring from other jobs. While the physical nature of strenuous work appears to benefit the physical health of these strong elderly people, I am particularly fascinated by how the sociality of work affects people’s emotional and mental health. Farming requires communication, not only with suppliers and buyers, but also with fellow farmers about how to cooperate and to manage seasonal fluctuations. People also mentioned that they socialise with people who do the same work: a rice farmer will go and have sake now and then with fellow rice farmers in their association. The significance of work for health in later life appears to be about more than staying active or having an income, it seems to be central to maintaining a sense of belonging within a community. I look forward to further exploring this topic, along with the others, in the months to come.

 

Text and Illustrations by Laura Haapio-Kirk

*A pseudonym is used in order to protect privacy.