An Unflattering Portrait: Half of Brazilian Seniors Are Illiterate

A Brazilian old lady A just-released report on Brazil's urban senior citizens – 60 or older – shows that 49% of them are illiterate. According to the study, entitled "Senior Citizens in Brazil: living, challenges and expectation in the 3rd age" and prepared by the Perseu Abramo Foundation in partnership with Sesc (Social Service of Commerce) 49% of Brazilian seniors are functional illiterates.

Twenty three percent of them don't know how to read or write, 4% only know how to write their own names and 22% say they have difficulty with the written language, for lack of education or due to health problems.

The researchers interviewed 2.136 people over the age of  60 and another group of 1,608 who were between 16 and 59 years old in 204 Brazilian municipalities. Among them only 11% finished high school or went further in their studies.

A mere 4% went to college. In the 16 to 59 group the percentage of college educated is not much better: 15%. While 89% of the older people never studied or only went to elementary school, this lack of schooling still happens to 44% of the second group interviewed.

Thirty five percent of the elderly revealed that they have already suffered some kind of physical or psychological violence including beatings and verbal aggression.  Eight percent said they were deprived of medicine or medical treatment. Another 12% mentioned being  ridiculed and humiliated while 4% told that they were denied a job.

The researchers also discovered that 42% of the older men never had a prostate exam while 26% of the women have never seen a gynecologist. As expected, television is the place where most seniors, 65% of them, get their information and entertainment. As for the Internet, only 4% use it. On the brighter side, more than half of the over-60 population do some kind of physical activity, walking being the favorite.

The survey also found out that there are lots of prejudice in Brazil against old age, which is seen as something negative by 90% of the Brazilian population, with 60% associating it to disease and physical frailty. 

Younger people, especially, consider the elderly antiquated, helpless and unhappy.  Danilo Miranda, the study coordinator. says that the results show that Brazil still needs to evolve a lot over the way it treats senior citizens.

"We don't have a public policy against illiteracy of the elderly, for example, which is 49%," commented Miranda. "A country that treats well its senior citizens, is a country that is on the right road with a chance to overcome its problems faster. We are not on the right road yet."

Among male seniors most of them are married and live with the wife and at least a child.  Among women most of them are widows also living with a son or a daughter.

Based on IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) criteria for color, 41% of the non-elderly population interviewed classified themselves as white, 37% as of mixed race, and 14% as black.

Among seniors, on the other hand,  51% call themselves white, 31% of mixed race and 12% black. The whitening of the elderly also occurs when they are asked about their ancestry: 42% declare white ancestry and 30% white and black. Among the younger generation only 27% say their ancestors are white, while 40% say they are black and white.

The senior population also has a larger share of catholics (73%) when compared to the 19-59 crowd with 62% declaring to be catholic. The number of evangelicals on the other hand is bigger among the younger Brazilian population (26%) than among the older one (21%).

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