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Non-kin ties as a source of support amongst older adults ‘left behind’ in Poland: a quantitative study on the role of geographic distance


In the transition to democracy and a market economy, the Central and Eastern European countries experienced rapid and fundamental changes. Large-scale emigration flows and pronounced reductions in previously universal welfare systems increased the phenomenon of ‘left behind’ older adults. We examine this phenomenon in the case of Poland, a rather family-oriented society which in recent years sent most emigrants to Western Europe in absolute terms. Employing a support system framework and representative survey data, we enquire into older adults’ support patterns. Our results suggest that older adults in Poland rely predominantly on family support, although this varies greatly across living arrangements. We also find a positive association between distance separating parents and their closest child, and support from at least one non-kin. Yet, our findings reveal differences between practical and emotional support, with the latter being more likely to be provided by non-kin, but with distance mattering to a lesser degree. Parents with very distant child(ren) are few and differ only from parents with very proximate child(ren), a finding prompting the question as to what is the difference between being ‘left behind’ by international and by internal migration. We conclude that the phenomenon of ‘left behind’ in Poland, at least in terms of support, is less a matter of children's migration and more an issue of household and regional context.

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      Non-kin ties as a source of support amongst older adults ‘left behind’ in Poland: a quantitative study on the role of geographic distance
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      Non-kin ties as a source of support amongst older adults ‘left behind’ in Poland: a quantitative study on the role of geographic distance
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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Nina Conkova, Department of Public Administration and Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Burg. Oudlaan 50, 3062 PA Rotterdam, The Netherlands E-mail:
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