Volume 48 - Article 9 | Pages 233–270  

Migrating to a new country in late life: A review of the literature on international retirement migration

By Esma Betül Savaş, Juul Spaan, Kène Henkens, Matthijs Kalmijn, Hendrik P. van Dalen


Background: In the last few decades, a substantial number of older adults have migrated to new countries around the retirement age to raise their quality of life, a phenomenon that has been labeled as international retirement migration. The scattered body of research on this type of migration across disciplines has made it difficult to get an overview of why retirement migrants move and how they fare in their destination countries.

Objective: This paper accumulates findings from research on international retirement migration from different disciplines to obtain a comprehensive picture of the field. We do so by (1) evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of methodological approaches, (2) reviewing empirical findings, and (3) discussing future research directions.

Methods: We carried out a systematic literature search of peer-reviewed studies in the English language on Web of Science and Google Scholar published between 1998 and 2021 with the keyword search “international retirement migration.” From an initial pool of 148 articles, we excluded articles focusing on the return of retiring labor migrants, internal retirement migrants, and seasonal retirement migrants. We conducted a literature review on the remaining 90 articles about retirement migration.

Contribution: Our review shows that the unbalanced nature of methods and samples used in the retirement migration literature offers challenges for future research. In particular, it remains important to assess whether the current accounts are representative of the wider retirement migrant population and to systematically test hypotheses that arise from this basis. We suggest methodological improvements and future research directions.

Author's Affiliation

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