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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mexico City's grants for the elderly give them more free time

Side effect of payments: Recipients may spend less time in church

By David Gaddis Smith

A study of the monthly grants instituted for the elderly in Mexico City in 2001 found that they increased leisure time while reducing the amount of time the recipients worked and spent on caring for grandchildren in their homes.

The grants of about $60 a month go to all men and women over 70 in the federal district, regardless of their income. The program also gives them free health care. The grants often are referred to as pensions.

laura juarez mugIn households where women received the grants, increased resources generally were spent on children. Such was not the case, however, in general in homes where men received them, according to a study by Laura Juárez, an assistant professor of economics at the Instituto Tecnológico Autonomo de México in Mexico City. She is a fellow this year at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California San Diego and presented some of her results on Wednesday.

Many of the elderly live in extended households.

Her analysis of federal government data also found that those receiving the grants were likely to spend an hour less a week in religious, political and community activities. Center Director Alberto Díaz-Cayeros said a European study has shown that churches are often used as part of a social network for economic gain, and that church attendance by elderly grant recipients in Mexico City may have declined because their economic needs were being met. It also could be that the recipients are not going to church to pray as much to Saint Cayetano, who is associated with wealth, because they have less reason for doing so.

The Nutrition Transfer for Senior Adults program was instituted in 2001 by then-Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party. Juárez said that seniors benefitting from the program tended to eat out more and that the households they lived in actually wound up buying less food. She said she thought that the idea of improving nutrition for the elderly was likely a minor factor in the decision to implement the politically popular program.

To qualify for the program, seniors must be at least 70 and have lived in Mexico City for at least three years.

Men who received the grants wound up doing more housework, but that may have been a factor of having more time to spend at home because they worked, on average, 11 fewer hours a week and did not have to spend time traveling to those jobs.

Following is a table with some of the study's findings on the program's apparent effects on recipients' time use, in hours:

hours worked
Decreased travel hours Increased
leisure hours
Decreased religious, political and community activity hours Increased or decreased housework hours Reduced time spend on child care (in hours) Decreased hours caring for elderly, sick and disabled

over 70

-10.9 -1.6 +12.9 -1.0 +14.5 -0.5 -1.7
-3.3 -0.2 +4.3 -1.3 -0.03 -1.0 -1.3