The new book Gringolandia: Lifestyle Migration Under Late Capitalism by Matthew Hayes explores the little-discussed phenomenon of migration from North to South by retirees, focusing on the historic city of Cuenca, Ecuador. In this city, as many as 12,000 North Americans have arrived in recent years to enjoy the colonial Spanish architecture and low cost of living. The movement of “snowbird” pensioners from cold Northern countries to warmer, Southern ones, illustrates that maintaining middle-classness into one’s golden years is getting more and more difficult. It is also the story of the stark inequality between wealthy countries that produce “expats” and poorer countries that send “migrants.”
Hayes, a Canadian sociologist, explores what makes people leave their communities at the end of their lives, when relocating to a place with a different culture and language is a daunting undertaking. Half a million social security checks are mailed internationally each month but far more elderly Americans live abroad than that. Some of Hayes’s informants, like Mary from Australia, moved to Cuenca because “life seems to be narrowing” at home as friends pass away. “By contrast, she saw a potential move to Cuenca,” Hayes writes, “as an ‘expansionary thing to do.’” Others felt that they had been deprived of travel during their working years and wanted to go all out now by relocating and immersing themselves in a new culture.
Adventure is often the story that expats tell about themselves to assuage the embarrassment of outsourcing their own retirement to a cheaper place. Many of the Americans interviewed by Hayes moved because of divorce, job loss, and inadequate pensions. Particularly women, who entered the labor market in the 1970s but accumulated far less wealth due to unequal pay, liked the option of an offshore retirement. Many international retirees say they’re seeking a late-in-life challenge, in order to show that they still have agency and can navigate their own lives. Yet, in an era in which worker insecurity is heralded as flexibility and freedom, “challenges,” “agency,” and “optimization” have become less-than-reassuring neoliberal buzzwords for making do with less.
Locally, Madison spends far more than most, now around $20,000 per K-12 student, annually. Yet, we have long tolerated disastrous reading results.