31.6 Meaning of work and elderly

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 9:54 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
José Mauricio ARGÜELLES PÉREZ , Research Team of Social Development and Globalization, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM), Campus Monterrey, Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico
The Empirical Study of the Meaning of Work for the Elderly in Precarious Jobs 

In Monterrey, México, local governments and labor unions have begun to encourage people over sixty to take informal jobs, for example as baggers in supermarkets or guarding parked cars–an informal-street work called cuidacoches. For the past two years, I have been conducting research on the meaning of work for the elderly in these occupations. Both are informal activities and are defined explicitly as voluntary: they involve an income dependent altogether on tips. Problems arise when conducting research with populations that are sometimes reluctant to participate in in-depth interviews, as I have encountered with some cuidacoches. At the other extreme, some baggers are excessively enthusiastic participants: I do not have time enough to interview all those interested. Despite the differences in the two occupations, there are some points in common regarding procedures and problems with the vocabulary used in the interviews. In Mexico there are many euphemism to refer to the elderly: viejito (little-old-people) or abuelito (grandma or grandpa), for example, and even the institutionalized vocabulary has changed in recent years: the actual term to refer to old people is adulto mayor (“greater” adult), a term with no explicit reference to aging. In my ethnographic work (participant observation and in-depth interviews), it has been fruitful to leave people free to refer to themselves in their own words, and to talk about themes even if they were not originally in the script of the interview, and even if they are not relevant—in principle—to the research questions. Follow-up interviews have also been valuable to let people re-think their participation in the research, and even to read their own life stories and be coauthors of them.