Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

How left behind are rural parents of migrant children? Evidence from Thailand


The consequences of adult children's migration from rural areas for older parents who remain behind are keenly debated. While the mass media and international advocacy organisations favour an ‘alarmist’ view of desertion, the academic literature makes more sanguine assessments using the ‘household strategy’ and ‘modified extended family’ perspectives. We examine the relationship between the migration of adult children and various dimensions of older parents' wellbeing in Thailand using evidence from a survey that focused on the issues. The results provide little support for the alarmist view, but instead suggest that parents and adult children adapt to the social and economic changes associated with development in ways not necessarily detrimental to intergenerational relations. The migration of children, especially to urban areas, often benefits parents' material support while the recent spread of cell phones has radically increased their ability to maintain social contact. Nevertheless, changing living arrangements through increased migration and the smaller family sizes of the youngest age groups of older people pose serious challenges for aspects of filial support, especially at advanced ages when chronic illness and frailty require long-term personal care. Dealing with this emerging situation in a context of social, economic and technological change is among the most critical issues facing those concerned with the implications of rapid population ageing in Thailand and elsewhere.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: John Knodel, Population Studies Center, University of Michigan, PO Box 1248, Ann Arbor, MI48106-1248, USA. E-mail:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

M. A. Abas , S. Punpuing , T. Jirapramukpitak , P. Guest , K. Tangchonlatip , M. Leese and M. Prince 2009. Rural–urban migration and depression in ageing family members left behind. British Journal of Psychiatry, 195, 1, 5460.

I. Aboderin 2004. Modernisation and ageing theory revisited: current explanations of recent developing world and historical western shifts in material family support for older people. Ageing & Society, 24, 1, 2950.

X. Biao 2007. How far are the left behind left behind? A pulmonary study in rural China. Population, Space and Place, 13, 3, 179–91.

Q. Cai 2003. Migrant remittances and family ties: a case study in China. International Journal of Population Geography, 9, 6, 471–83.

C.-K. Cheung and A. Y.-H. Kwan 2009. The erosion of filial piety by modernisation in Chinese cities. Ageing & Society, 29, 2, 179–98.

R. L. Coles 2001. Elderly narrative reflections on the contradictions in Turkish village family life after migration of adult children. Journal of Aging Studies, 15, 4, 383406.

D. O. Cowgill 1968. The social life of the aged in Thailand. The Gerontologist, 8, 3, 159–63.

S. De Vos , P. Solis and V. M. De Oca 2004. Receipt of assistance and extended family residence among elderly men in Mexico. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 58, 1, 127.

M. Guo , I. Chi and M. Silverstein 2009. Intergenerational support of Chinese rural elders with migrant children: do sons' or daughters' migrations make a difference? Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 52, 5, 534–54.

S. Jitapunkul and S. Wiwatwanich 2009. National policies and programs for the aging population in Thailand. Ageing International, 33, 1, 6274.

Z. H. Kabir , M. Szabehely and C. Tishelman 2002. Support in old age in the changing society of Bangladesh. Ageing & Society, 22, 5, 613–36.

J. Knodel and C. Saengtienchai 2007. Rural parents with urban children: social and economic implications of migration on the rural elderly in Thailand. Population, Space and Place, 13, 3, 193210.

J. Knodel , C. Saengtienchai and S. Werasit 1995. The living arrangements of elderly in Thailand: views of the populace. Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology, 10, 1, 79–111.

P. Kreager 2006. Migration, social structure and old-age support networks: a comparison of three Indonesian communities. Ageing & Society, 26, 1, 3760.

E. Litwak 1960. Geographic-mobility and extended family cohesion. American Sociological Review, 25, 3, 385–94.

E. Litwak and S. Kulis 1987. Technology, proximity, and measures of kin support. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, 3, 649–61.

L. Nguyen , B. S. A. Yeoh and M. Toyota 2006. Migration and the well-being of the ‘left behind’ in Asia: key themes and trends. Asian Population Studies, 2, 1, 3744.

K. Osaki 2003. Migrant remittances in Thailand: economic necessity or social norm? Journal of Population Research, 20, 2, 203–22.

R. A. Sando 1986. Doing the work of two generations: the impact of out-migration on the elderly in rural Taiwan. Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology, 1, 2, 163–75.

M. Semyonov and A. Gorodzeisky 2008. Labor migration, remittances and economic well-being of households in the Philippines. Population Research and Policy Review, 27, 5, 619–37.

M. Silverstein , Z. Cong and S. Z. Li 2006. Intergenerational transfers and living arrangements of older people in rural China: consequences for psychological well-being. Journals of Gerontology Series B – Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 61, 5, S256–66.

G. C. Smith 1998. Residential separation and patterns of interaction between elderly parents and their adult children. Progress in Human Geography, 22, 3, 368–84.

C. Sorensen 1986. Migration, the family, and the care of the aged in rural Korea: an investigation of a village in the Yongso region of Kangwon Province, 1918–1983. Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology, 1, 2, 139–61.

O. Stark and R. E. B. Lucas 1988. Migration, remittances, and the family. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 36, 3, 465–81.

L. Vanwey 2004. Altruistic and contractual remittances between male and female migrants and households in rural Thailand. Demography, 41, 4, 739–56.

Z. Zimmer and K. Korinek 2008. Does family size predict whether an older adult lives with or proximate to an adult child in the Asia-Pacific region? Asian Population Studies, 4, 2, 1744–9.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *