Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Migrant Interactions with Elderly Parents in Rural Cambodia and Thailand

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Migrant Interactions with Elderly Parents in Rural Cambodia and Thailand

Article excerpt

This paper examines interactions between older adults living in rural areas of Thailand and Cambodia and their adult children. Thai data come from the Survey of the Welfare of the Elderly (N = 3,202 older adults and 17,517 adult children). Cambodia data are from the Survey of the Elderly in Cambodia (N = 777 older adults and 3,751 adult children). Results indicate that older adults in rural areas are not being abandoned, and supportive expressions such as visits and provision of material goods depend on living proximity, characteristics that relate to the needs and dependency of the older adult, and the life circumstances of adult children. These findings support an extension of an altruistic perspective that incorporates notions of vulnerability of older adults.

Key Words: aging, altruism, Asia, migration, remittance, support.

Societies in the developing world, and especially in Asia, are witnessing dramatic population aging. Often, this aging is unfolding in the near absence of formal pension and elderly support schemes (Kinsella & Phillips, 2005). The aging of Asia is a function of rapid declines of fertility, bringing levels in some countries to below replacement, which in tum raises the relative size of elderly populations in relation to those in other age categories. In addition, population aging tends to be accompanied by urbanization and selective migration of young adults out of rural locales (Knodel & Saengtienchai, 2007; Kreager, 2006). In combination, these changes have the potential of placing traditional, family-based systems of old-age support on shaky ground. Indeed, they have provoked alarm among some who portend a looming catastrophe in which older adults are left behind with inadequate material, physical, and emotional support (Phillips, 2000; United Nations, 2002; World Bank, 1994). Such voices of alarm arise from unanswered questions about the sustainability of family support systems upon which the majority of older adults in developing Asia rely. With reference to Thailand and Cambodia, the current study addresses three related questions: (1) Are older adults in rural areas being abandoned by their mobile adult children? (2) Do adult children's interactions with older parents in rural areas differ by their residential proximity? (3) What factors determine the types of interaction that migrant children have with older parents in rural areas?

Theory and Hypotheses

Exhibiting patterns consistent with altruism theories, support for older adults in Asian societies has long rested upon deep-seated norms of filial piety and intergenerational exchange in which resource flows favor older, dependent parents (Lee, Parish, & Willis, 1994; Lin et al., 2003; Secondi, 1997). This system, however, has been premised upon several assumptions - that older adults have living children, that at least one coresides or lives nearby, and that children behave in a filial manner. In countries like Thailand and Cambodia, socioeconomic and demographic changes have the potential to drive the type of structural shifts that threaten these criteria, giving rise to concern that traditional modes of social and economic support will be eroded through diminished social contact. Indeed, select voices from the scholarly community and popular press suggest that older adults are increasingly being left behind by their migratory, individualistic minded children, echoing a notion long held among western social scientists that modernization leads to abandonment of older people by their families (Aboderin, 2004).

A contrasting body of literature, however, suggests a picture that is somewhat less dire (Agarwal & Horowitz, 2002; Itzigsohn, 1995; Knodel & Saengtienchai, 2007; Secondi, 1997; Velkoff, 2001). These studies suggest that because Asian cultures emphasize the family collective and filial obligation, the forces of modernization, urbanization, and population mobility are unlikely to erode support. …

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