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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:
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Ageing & Society
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