Volume 37 - Article 55 | Pages 1761–1792  

Aging, and separation from children: The health implications of adult migration for elderly parents in rural China

By Qian Song


Background: Massive rural-to-urban migration in China has profoundly altered the family life of rural older adults, as adult children remain the primary caretakers of their elderly parents. And yet little is known about the health and well-being of the parents of adult migrants in rural China whose main source of support has been displaced.

Objective: This study takes a comprehensive view and compares the trajectories of self-rated health among the rural elderly and examines how these health trajectories are associated with adult children’s migration.

Methods: We analyze older adults aged 55 years and over in rural China, using four waves of data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey (1997, 2000, 2004, 2006) and multilevel growth curve models.

Results: The results show that parents of migrants persistently scored worse self-rated health across ages than their counterparts whose children had not migrated. Long-term migration of adults takes a heavier toll on the health of their elderly parents than short-term migration. However, these associations with children’s migration are driven by the migration of sons. The migration of daughters and of children of both genders may have disparate effects on the health trajectories of elderly men and women.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that the interplay of gendered family dynamics and migration processes affects the health outcomes of older adults.

Contribution: The findings contribute to current debates on the health and well-being of family members left behind by migrants and call for further study of the relationship between migration and family processes in the well-being of migrant families.

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