Why and where early retirees move? A post-mining town case study (my abstract for the next European Sociological Association conference in Prague)

Problem and research question Mining industries have played a crucial part in the European history. Starting in the 19th century, the extraction of coal and lignite provided the basis for the industrialization of many European regions (Wirth et al, 2012). Due to exhaustion of resources or technical and market conditions changes, mining industry has been retreating since 1960s in central Europe and since 1990s in Eastern and Southern Europe. In the particular case of Spain and according to a mining institution attached to the Ministry of Industry, in 2012 there were 79 mining municipalities “very affected” by mining restructuring. In order to avoid the “socioeconomic drama” (Baeten et al, 1999) that usually accompanied this process, these municipalities have been benefited from revitalization policies from public institutions, such as early retirement plans, employment incentives and grants to attract investors, among other measures. This papers aims to explore the patterns of residential mobility among early retirees mining workers in one of these Spanish regions. Specifically, the municipality of As Pontes de García Rodríguez, located in the Autonomous Community of Galicia. There, the largest opencast coalmine in Spain and its power plant was located. Its construction and operation as of 1979 and the associated influx of newcomers workers would definitely change a place that by that time was not far from many others villages that form the most genuine rural Galicia. In hardly two decades, this boom scenario will soon give way to a deep shrinkage process. The closure of the adjacent opencast coalmine, its conversion into an artificial lake, as well as the massive early retirement plan implemented in the last decades, finally defined its particular idiosyncrasies up to date. The mining industry workforce was nearly 2,000 employees in 1998. It is estimated that the early retirement plan implemented between 1998 and 2012 meant the withdrawal from the labour market of around 1.855 employees between 47 and 64 years old. How many and where early retirees moved? What variables better explain such decision? This paper aims to answer these questions, while also reflecting about revitalization policies in European post-mining regions. Methodology A self-administrated postal questionnaire survey has been conducted. The relatively high response rate (18%) has allowed obtaining a representative sample of 327 cases to be analysed by mean statistic software. With a confidence interval of 95% and p=q=50% (hypothesis of the maximum possible variation), the maximum sample error is ± 4.9% (assuming the number of early-retirees [1855] as the total population. The questionnaire includes opinion (perception of the social integration in the mining community during their time as employees, Retirement Satisfaction Inventory variables (F. J. Floyd et al, 1992), among others), behavioural (social capital related questions, medical treatment for anxiety, current municipality of residence and others) and attribute variable (birthplace and origin related questions and other socio-demographic variables). Different statistical association test according to variable nature (mainly Chi square, Cramer´s V and regression coefficient) were applied in order to identify statistically significant relationships between the different variables. Results Approximately 75% of respondents had resided in the town of As Pontes during most of the time they were employed at the mine, 10% would had done it only at specific times and 14% never, i.e., their place of residence was other than the workplace. Of those who resided most of the time in As Pontes, 28% decided to emigrate after retirement. This decision does not appear to have any statistically significant relationship with most of the variables. Only two variables seem to be associated. First and foremost, the origin. The percentage of former employees who decided to emigrate after retiring is much higher among newcomers from other municipalities, and above all, among those coming from outside the Autonomous Community of Galicia. Here the percentage increases to 48%, against the 12% of natives residents.  However, the destination is not precisely the place of origin. In most of the cases, the respondents reside in a third place within Autonomous Community of Galicia. Thus, 55% do it in nearby urban or coastal areas, especially the city of A Coruña and its metropolitan area. And this is even clearer among those coming from other Autonomous Communities. On the other hand, there is a striking moderate but significant association between the residence and such variable as being or having been under anxiety or depression medical treatment. It is more likely among people who no longer reside in As Pontes. Specifically, 22% of those who have left As Pontes were under treatment in comparison to 10% of the total sample and the 15% of the total Spanish population, according to experts. Conclusions Despite no problem of social integration was identified during the time living in the mining community, evidence suggests that the lower attachment to the community explain the higher tendency to emigrate after retirement among newcomers miners. The fact that the main destination was not the place of origin but a third place suggests that the decision making process may be based on such factors as perception of more urban areas as provider of greater standard of living and services availability. This fact, however, could explain greater problems in the post-retirement adaptation process, judging by the worse health status identified among those who left the community.  The improvement of local services, and especially for retired population, must be seen as an important factor of economic revitalization in post mining regions. The capacity to keep and even attract retirees with usually high level of purchase may reactivate the local economy; especially when other revitalization measures such as tax breaking and grants to attract investors does not seem to be giving the expected results.


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