Anthropologist Lynch ’89 examines one elderly workforce

Attracting media attention is Retirement on the Line, a book from cultural anthropologist Caitrin Lynch ’89 examining the elderly workforce at Vita Needle Co. in Needham, Mass., where the median age is 73.

Cultural anthropologist Caitrin Lynch '89 is the author of Retirement on the Line.

Lynch, an associate professor of anthropology at Olin College, tells The Boston Globe that for many Americans getting old is like a vanishing act.

“People don’t even look at them, and if they do look at them, they look at them with pity,” she said.

But work, Lynch tells blogger Julia Moulden, can provide an “oasis of meaning for older adults.”

She tells The Roundtable of Northeast Public Radio that leisure activities are rewarding for the elderly, but a job provides something different, the feeling that someone is looking for them “to arrive and contribute.”

She spent five years studying Vita Needle, the maker of stainless steel needles and tubing, including one summer doing a variety of jobs on the production floor.

Lynch tells AARP’s Prime Time Radio that anthropological research of this sort illuminates “the meaning and context of work for different people — the economic, social and psychological values. What is it people are seeking? What are their values? How do you understand work in the context of people’s lives?”