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Placing ethnicity at the centre of studies of later life: theoretical perspectives and empirical challenges


Research on minority ethnic ageing remains a neglected area within mainstream race and ethnicity studies as well as that of social gerontology. This paper examines the background and reasons for this, arguing that a focus on minority ethnic issues provides a reminder of the complexity of the lifecourse, and of the diversity of ageing as a cultural, economic and social construction. The discussion reviews definitions of ethnicity and their relevance to work in social gerontology. The paper provides an account of early studies of minority ethnic ageing, identifying the strengths and limitations of this research. Later work is then considered, notably that focusing on issues connected with the rise of transnational communities and the changing character of neighbourhoods in urban environments. The paper argues that developing research on minority ethnic ageing has become especially important for understanding the impact of globalisation on re-defining communities, relationships and identities, within and beyond nation states. Globalisation, it is suggested, can be seen as a product of the movement of ethnic groups; equally, ethnic groups are themselves transformed by the possibilities created by global change. The paper concludes with a number of suggestions for embedding work on ethnicity within research in social gerontology.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Chris Phillipson, School of Social Sciences, Humanities Building, Bridgeford St., The University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL. E-mail:
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