SOME SOCIOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF RETIREENT FAIRING
Daniel E. Alleger
Associate Agricultural Economist
Florida Agricultural Experiment Station
Research Paper Presented at the
1954 Annual Meeting
THE RURAL SOCIOLOGICAL SOCIETY
The University of Illinois
September 6-8, 1954
SOME SOCIOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF RETIREMENT FARMING
Daniel E. Alleger
Florida Agricultural Experiment Station
Before the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, retirement on any
large scale was something unknown in American history. Bocauso of today's retire-
ment programs, we are on the threshold of a vast cultural change. All our economic
and social activities have been undergoing revolutionary changes during the past
50 years. Not only have reduced hours of weekly gainful employment, the automobile,
radio and television and other developments affected our lives, but also there have
been marked changes in the character of household work performed by women. Thus,
almost by accident, leisure is increasing. Because so many of us take for granted
our present civilization with its high level of living we fail to realize that
leisure is the most valuable product of our machine age, which also has given birth
to retirement. The cultural change that the increased use of leisure is producing
--particularly full-time retirement leisure--is evident in the settlement propensi-
ties of retirees, in the uses they make of leisure, and in our changing mental out-
look toward retirement.
Before discussing some implications of leisure, let us look at the rural
scene. In 1950 about 1,030,000 residential farms, or 19 percent of all farms, were
reported for the United States by the U. S. Census of Agriculture.2/ And from two-
thirds of these farms, only, was cropland harvested. The value of farm products
I/ A farm.--For the 1950 Census of Agriculture, places of 3 or more acres were
counted as farms if the value of agricultural products in 1949, exclusive of home
gardens, amounted to $150 or more. The agricultural products could have been either
for home use or for sale. Places of less than 3 acres were counted as farms only if
the value of sales of agricultural products in 1949 amounted to $150 or more.
Residential farms.--Residential farms include all farms except abnormal farms
with a total value of sales of farm products of less than $250.
sold in 1949 from them, as a percent of totals for all farms, was less than one-half
of one percent. Over 20 percent of the residential farms were operated by persons
65 years of age or over. Again, countless thousands of the older people are living
in rural areas on land that may not necessarily be classified as farmland. The
trend toward residential and retirement farming by old people may have far-reaching
effects in the future, when the full impact of the Social Security program and other
retirement plans is felt. The aging of the U. S. population will shortly compel us
to focus more attention upon this subject.
The Retirement Situation
About 14,000,000 persons in the United States are now of retirement age,
and this number is increasing by 400,000 annually.2/ At the turn of the century
only four out of every 100 persons were at least 65 years of age. By 1950 this
figure had risen to eight per 100, and it may reach from 12 to 15 per 100 in 2000
A.D. At that time we may have 25 to 26 million persons 65 and over.2/ In Florida
we are particularly conscious of this situation. Between 1940 and 1950 Florida's
aged increased by 81 percent. It has been estimated that of Florida's 238,000 older
people in 1950, about 97,000 (40 percent) migrated to the state during the 1940-1950
decade./ Research surveys indicate that relatively large numbers of the nation's
potential retirees hope to locate in Florida after retirement.5/ To this speaker,
at least, it does not seem unreasonable to expect 750,000 to 1,000,000 aged in
Florida 50 years hence. Forecasts based on other criteria would raise the estimates
2/ Federal Security Agency, Fact Book on Aging (Washington, D. C., 1952), p. 1.
3/ Warren S. Thompson, "Our Old People," Problems of America's Aging Population,
University of Florida Institute of Gerontology (Gainesville: The University of
Florida Press, March, 1951), p. 10.
Y/ T. Stanton Dietrich, Florida's Older Population, Florida State Improvement
Commission (Tallahassee, 1952), p. 19.
/ Investors Diversified Services, Inc., Analysis of Housing-Living Questionnaire
(Minneapolis, 1953; mimeographed).
The Services of the State Improvement Commission of Florida, "Living in Retire-
ment" (Tallahassee, Florida, Dec. 31, 1952), p. 12.
to 1,500,000 in a total population of 12,000,000--a fourfold increase over today's
Gerontologists have long recognized that retirement imposes upon retirees
many new and very perplexing problems. Among these are, of course, economic con-
siderations. Economic insecurity is, however, no more of a handicap to retirement
than psychological barriers. The trouble with retirement is that while both sexes
have an abundance of spare time, making use of it is a strange, new experience,
Changes in mental outlooks and social customs have not kept pace with technological,
scientific, and medical developments. That is one reason why magazines devote so
much space to opportunities open to retirees. It is also a reason why retirees are
constantly being interviewed to ascertain what their retirement problems consist
of, and to discover what retirement adjustments they have found most successful.
The Florida Survey
At this point I should acquaint you with some of the research background
upon which I base my observations and judgments. The former Citizens Committee on
Retirement in Florida and the Florida State Improvement Commission have done much to
determine the needs and resources of retired people living in Florida.- During
the last few years the Florida Institute of Gerontology has sponsored annual meet-
ings, bringing together at Gainesville some of the nation's foremost retirement and
population authorities.-/ A study of retirement farming was undertaken to augment
the data being assembled by educators, public officials and others. This work has
6/ Irving L. Webber, The Retired Population of St. Petersburg, Florida State
Improvement Commission (Tallahassee, 1950).
Irving L. Webber, "How Older People in Five Florida Communities Obtain Their
Incomes," Living in the Later Years, University of Florida Institute of Gerontology
(Gainesville: The University of Florida Press, 1952), pp. 91-94.
Citizens Committee on Retirement in Florida, Second Annual Report, 1952 (Talla-
V/ The University of Florida Institute of Gerontology has sponsored four annual
conferences on gerontology at the University of Florida beginning in 1951.
been in progress for over two years./
Included in this study were rural retirees in the Tampa-St. Petersburg,
Fort Myers, Ocala, and Palatka areas. Altogether, nearly 200 retirees (as contrast-
ed to retired farmers) were interviewed in five counties. The final tabulations
included records from 175 retired family heads, of whom 153 were white and 22 noi-
white, and of whom 155 were males and 20 females. The average retirement family
consisted of two persons, usually husband and wife, but around 19 percent of the
families were one-person families and 20 percent three-person families or larger.
Also the average family head was 69 years old, had completed about seven years of
formal education, and had been in retirement a little less than six years. All of
the nonwhites were born in Florida or in the nearby South Atlantic States. The
white retirement farmers were also predominantly southern in origin, but others
came from northern states and foreign countries (Table 1).
About 14 percent of the retirees interviewed could not explain their mo-
tivations for farming, but suggested that both economic and subjective considera-
tions were involved. About 57 percent advanced economic reasons for farming, and
the remainder, or 29 percent, gave subjective reasons only. Research clearly demon-
strated that even when economic motivations determined scale of farm operations or
types of farming, retirees frequently treasured personal values above monetary
considerations. It is here that the theory of production economics has limited
meaning. Commercial gain and efficiency of operation as purposeful goals were of
less importance than the objective of personal adjustment. We may will ask, why is
retirement adjustment difficult?
8/ Daniel E. Alleger, Agricultural Activities of Industrial Workers and Retirees
(Gainesville: Florida AES Bull. 528, Oct. 1953).
Fred R. Marti, Retirement Farming in Hillsborough County, Florida, a disserta-
tion presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor
of Philosophy, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida (August, 1954).
TABLE 1.--Geographical Division of Birth for 175 Rotirement Farmers, $ tI .
Selected Counties, Florida.
: Distribution by Counties**
: Iarion : : Lee '
SPutnam :Hillsborought Pinellas : All
: No. : Pet. : No. : Pct : No. : Pet. : No. : Pet.
Whites:............:.. 31 :100.0 : 102 :100.0 20 100.0 : 153 :100.0
South Atlantic*....: 20 : 64.5 : 60 : 56.8 8 : I0.0 : 8 : 57.5
East South Central.: 2 : 6.5 : 16 : 15.7 18 : 11.8
Middle Atlantic....: 3 : 9.5 : 6 : 5.9 : 3 : 15.0 : 12 : 7.8
Foreign born.......: 2 : 6.5 : 7 : 6.8 : 3 :15.0 : 12 : 7.8
East North Central.: 2 : 6.5 : 5 : 4.9 : 20.0 : 11 7.2
West North Central.: 2 : 6.5 : 4 : 3.9 : 1 : 5.0 : 7 : 4.6
West South Central.: -: 2 : 2.0 1 5.0 : 3 : 2.0
New England........: : 2 : 2.0 : : : 2 : 1.3
Nonwhites:............: 20 :100.0 : 2 :100.0 : 22 :100.0
South Atlantic.....: 20 :100.0 : 2 :100.0 : 22 100.0
Total...............: 51 :100.0 : 104 :100.0 : 20 :100.0 : 175 :100.0
Percent .............: 29.2 : 59.4 : 11.4 : 100.0
* Born in Florida: Total, 68; male, 54; female,l1.
** The types of crop fanning predominating in Marion and Putnam Counties
is general fanning; in Hillsborough County, citrus and small-scale truck
fanning, in Lee County, large commercial truck and gladioli fanning, and
in Pinellas County, citrus fanning.
A moment ago I mentioned that the use of full-time leisure is a strange
experience to the average retiree. Leisure in this sense is all that part of life
not required in working for a living. Retirees, more than others in our popula-
tion, have possibilities for utilizing it fully. But retirement leisure came
almost by accident with the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935. Implied
in the Act was a coercive power to remove the older persons from their competitive
position in the labor forco. Yony persons olligiblo for retirement
refused to retire voluntarily, even in instances when economic security for them-
selves or their families was not involved. Refusal frequently stemmed from the
fear of leisure.
This attitude can be traced to the precariousness of living over the cen-
turies, to the stress that for so long was placed on work as a moral virtue, and on
idleness as a sin. This discipline discouraged exploration into the non-productive
uses of leisure-/ It is only upon the first day of retirement that life-long work
habits are suddenly broken for the average retiree. He then realizes he has abso-
lutely nothing to do and has lost status in his group. If his work habits were
particularly rigid, discontentment with retirement is apt to arise. At this stage
the role of farming is clearly a medium for adjustment. Farming enables a retiree
to make a "new start", to develop fresh interests, and to regain a purpose for
Perhaps the fact that older retirees develop a deep religious philosophy,
as distinct from denominationalism, stems from the fact not that they are nearing
eternity but that they have time to rest and meditate. Leisure, in this sense, is
a mental and spiritual attitude of ri-nd. It is a form of silence which brings man
face to face with the divine that is within him. Religious leaders teach that im-
perishable intuitions visit man during periods of his inward calm. It is during
9/ George H. Preston, M.D., Should I Retire? (New York, N.Y.: Rinehart and Company,
Inc., 1952), p. 22.
these silent and receptive moments that the inner vision of man contemplates his
works of creation, be they ever so humble. This privilege of leisure, as expressed
by large numbers of retirees in Florida, is a special attribute of retirement farm-
ing. Lest I be accused of being philosophic and unscientific, I shall discuss the
average retirement fanner, as we know him in Florida, in a little more detail.
The Retirement Farmer
The retiree had to meet his basic pecuniary needs, or reduce his scale
of living. On an average, his $81 monthly retirement income (Table 2) was $16 un-
der his ordinary monthly living needs. As a rule his allocations for food were
kept relatively constant by substitutions of lower-cost for higher-cost foods. But
when prices for all foods rose, substitutions became difficult. Here the economic
value of retirement fanning is demonstrated. The average retiree netted $212
during the schedule year (1952) in the value of farm products sold and in items
produced and used in the home. This was over and above all cash costs. And whe-
ther he produced for sale or merely for home use, the extra money earned from
farming was just enough to bridge the gap between retirement incomes and needs, but
no more. In fact there were two kinds of average retirement farmers. The first
produced some farm products for sale, the second for home use only. But in the end,
the total income (retirement and farm incomes combined) for each retiree was about
the same, or $1,164 toa,2L5, respectively. It is thus evident that the contribu-
tions of retirement farming are twofold. One contribution is subjective and the
other economic. But the importance of either contribution must be weighed against
the factors that influence those contributions. Foremost among these are differ-
ences in age and in retirement income, but other considerations, including condition
of health, are also important. However, no one factor taken alone was entirely in-
dependent of all other factors.
Factors Affecting Contributions
As age increased, living requirements declined. Farm incomes dropped as
needs dropped. But as age increased disabilities also rose (Table 3). But when
age and disability were related to income, the effects of age overshadowed -
TABLE 2 .--Principal Types of Retirement Income; Number of Sources of Income in
Addition to Principal Type; Distribution of Retirees by Type of Income, and Av-
erage Annual Retirement Income of 165 Retirement Farmers, Five Selected Counties,
: Number of Sources
Principal Type of Retirement : Income in Additio
Income : to Principal Type
: None : 1 : 2 : 3
State: ...................... :
Old age assistance ..........:
Welfare, except old age......:
Federal: ...................... ..
Armed services, pensions .....:
Armed services, disability...:
Armed services, unclassified.:
U.S. Civil service..........
Railroad retirement 2/........
Armed services, insurance....:
Rents and royalties ..........:
Interest and dividends.......:
Not specified .................
Part-time employment: ..........:
Wife offamily head..........:
Family head .................:
Roomers, boarders, etc........:
No retirement income:..........:
Miscellaneous incomes: .........
Gifts from relatives .........
Municipal pensions ...........
Corporation pensions .........
Grand total or average........
3 : 15 :
1 : 4:
32 : 22 .
13 : 11 :
5 : 5:
6 : 2
2 : 2
5 : 3:
1 : :
14 : 1:
1 : 1:
1 : 1:
1 : 1:
1 : -
102 : 148
of: Distribution :
n of : Annual
: Retirees :Retirement
1 : 72 43.6 $ 739
- : 64: 38.8: 703
1 7 : 4.2 1,063
- : 1 : 0.6: 804
- : 58 35.2 1,276
: 26 : 15.8 926
: 12 : 7.3: 2,309
: 8 : 4.9 809
-: 4 : 2.4 : 877
: : 2.4 : 1,269
: 3 : 1.8: 1,623
: 1 : 0.6 2,304
S12 7.3 94L
8 : 4.9 1,053
-: 3 : 1.8 : 867
: 1 0.6 300
7 : .2 1,345
- : 3 1: I'L: 1,991
: 2 : 1.2: 172
-: 2 : 1.2: 1,549
9.5 : 1,411
- : : 2. 915
: 2 : 1.2 : 1,685
- 2 : 1.2 : 1,685
1 : 0.6 : 2,300
1 165 : 100.0 $ 974
Board to Social Se-
Ten retirees with unknown income excluded.
Employment records transferred from Railroad Retirement
curity Board at death or retirement of employee, subject to
TABLE 3.--The Frequency of Disability Related to Age, Sex, and
Retirement Farmers, Five Selected Counties, Florida.
: Numerical Distribution
:: Number :Number :Proportion
Item : Partial : Total : with : in :Reporting
:Disability:Disability:Disability: Survey :Disability
:... ...... ....... Number.. .. : ........ Pct.
Age classes...All..: 102 : 31 : 133 : 175 : 76.0
55 years or under.: 4 1 : 5 : o : 50.0
56 to 60 years....: 9 : 5 : 17 : 82.3
61 to 65 years....: 5 : 9 : 1 : 17 : 82.3
66 to 70 years....: 32 6 : 38 : 52 73.1
71 to 75 years....: 33 : : 37 : 49 : 75.5
76 years and over.: 19 : 6 : 25 : 30 : 83.3
Sex: : :
Male.............. 87 29 116 155 7.8
Female............: 15 : 2 : 17 : 20 : 85.0
ites............ 86 : 29 115 153 75.2
Nonwhites.........: 16 : 2 18 : 22 : 81.8
____________ _______:_____ _
* Eighty-six percent reported pensions or other means of support.
mitted individuals with incapacitations to retire prior to age 65.
produced bias in the correlation between age and disability rates.
those resulting from disabilities. Similar comparisons could be drawn from retire-
ment income. Within a low income range, e.g., annual incomes of up to $749, educa-
tion appeared to be directly related to net returns from farming. For the higher-
income retirees net farm incomes dropped as educational levels rose. And usually
the better educated retirees received the largest retirement incomes. The data were
consistent in that retirees either raised their income from farming to meet their
living requirements, or they changed their spending habits to consume their retire-
ment incomes. In either instance, levels of living were influenced.
Levels of Living
The Sewell Socio-economic Status Scale (short form) was used for measur-
ing socioeconomic status. It is debatable if the scale is adequate for a survey of
this nature because it was necessary to compare nonwhite and broken families against
other families 10/ In addition, certain items, such as type of cook stove, screened
windows and screened porches, were believed to have high discriminatory values in
Florida. Tests indicated that the statistical significance of the variation in -he
possession of each item between successive and extreme quartiles was often relative-
ly meaningless. For example, church attendance scores were questionable because of
the adverse effects of advanced age and physical incapacitations on religious par-
ticipation. The srme criticism could be raised in respect to ownership and use of
In spite of its limitations, however, the scale scores did demonstrate the
influence of income on the levels of living (Table 4). The score for two-person
families was 71, and for one-person families, 56; the score for retirees with
annual retirement incomes of $750 or over was 72, and for the lower income retirees,
10/ Dr. Margaret Jarman Haygood, U.S.D.A. Social Scientist, in letter of April 16,
951 to the speaker stated: "If one were going to have as the major objective of a
study the development of the best possible index of farm housing or level of living
in a state, an index could be constructed particularly for that state or for a broad
region. However, if the construction of an index is not the prime objective of a
study, it is generally preferable to use an index or scale that has been standar-
dized and that will permit inter-state and inter-area comparisons. I believe that
if I were in your position, I would use the Sewell short form scale in Florida."
TABLE 4 .--Percentage of Retirement Farm Families Possessing Specified Facili-
ties According to Family Status and Retirement Incomes, Three Florida Counties.
Home conveniences: :.
Screened windows........: 83
Running water........... 61
Kitchen sink..........,..: 8
Screened porch...........: 26
Shower bath.,............: 17
Telephone ...............: 14
pe of heating:
Wood heater............: 35
Installed oil heater....: 32
Portable oil heater.....: 7
Electric heater .......: 2
Kerosene oil............: 29
Wood ........... ........ : 23
Gas.......... .......: 22
Other home facilities: :
Mechanical refrigerator.: 66
Power washer...........: 50
Ice refrigerator........: 28
Deep freeze .......... : 8
: Family Status* :Retirement Incomes
: 1-Person : 2-Person : $7h9 : $750
es : Families : Families : or Less : or More
t, ; ;
Status Scores.............: 67 : $6 :
Number ..................: 149 ; 39
91 2 81
85 : 77 3
68 44k a
54 : 33 :
43 : 17 2
29 : 19 2
20 : 16 2
15 : 10
30 : 39
35 : 21 "
24 : 30 2
9 : 6
5 6 6
2 : 4 :
35 : 19
25 : 27 :
17 : 36
26 : 21
73 : 53
57 : 34 :
23 2 36 :
10 : 3 :
71 : 62 "
110 : 70 :
* 2-person families include all families with two or more persons.
**Six retirees with unknown incomes excluded.
62. Also, low incomes were related to one-person families. Only about one-third of
the retirees reported they lived less well (in respect to variety and quality of
foods and social participation) after retirement than before. Actually a number of
people reported an improvement in their level of living subsequent to retirement.
But in spite of our twentieth century technology, old men with low incomes still
cut wood for wives who cook over hot kitchen ranges. But, insofar as the ownership
of possessions which enhanced the level of living was concerned, 81 percent stated
their situations had not worsened during retirement.
Areas Meriting Attention
Before I close I want to mention several other aspects of retirement.
Housewives in common with their husbands now have time to enjoy retirement, and if
their interests are mutual, to share them together. Today planning for retirement
is not only desirable but feasible, and for the first time in our history all mature
segments of our population may join in its planning. If this planning is wisely
conceived and adequately applied there need be no moral or physical fear of retir.-
ment. Moreover, the narrowing of differences between rural and urban living reduces
the barriers against rural retirement.
However, I would recommend that serious attention be directed toward the
merits of village and suburban agriculture for retirees. Physical disabilities
increase with age. The counterpart of failing eyesight and infirmities of limb
is isolation and loneliness. Old folks need companionship, indoor toilet facilities
ease of communication and transportation, and availability of medical services.
They may also demand opportunities to putter in the ground. Usually the village or
the city suburbs can provide these basic needs. Lastly, I call attention to poverty
in old age.
Until the Social Security or other retirement programs extend retirement
coverage to everyone, the needy must look to the public for assistance, or depend
upon the charity of relatives or friends. To the sensitive, the fact of pauperism
is both humiliating and conducive to frustration. Present old age assistance regu-
lations and legal restrictions are barriers to inter-state migration. They also
prevent or greatly reduce the economic and leisure opportunities of dependent re-
tirees, including farming.
Ultimately, it is in the manner with which these and other retirement
problems are approached and solutions applied that trends in national cultural
patterns will be altered. The d reaction and wholesomeness of the changes will
depend upon our wisdom and foresight, but changes of some nature are inevitable.
And it Vi also inevitable that we will be dealing with them for many years to come.
DEA/ed 8A1/V .
Ag. Exp. Stat., Ag. Econ. 35