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New Research Project on Turkish Immigrants Growing Old in Denmark

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In Denmark, as in neighbouring countries, the cohorts of labour immigrants who arrived around 1970 are now growing old. While many of these immigrants initially thought that they would only stayabroad for a few years before returning to their countries of origin, history turned out otherwise. In collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, SFI is now starting a new mixed-methods research project to investigate the specific experiences of growing old as a labour migrant.

More than forty years ago, Western Europe had some years of unskilled labour immigration, especially in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. In Denmark, as in several nearby countries, a large share of these labour migrants came from Turkey. Today, these first arrivals of what today has become Western Europe’s largest immigrant group are growing old. Thus over the next years, a new group of pensioners will grow, a group which may be facing hardships in their old age, about which we presently have limited knowledge.

In a new research project, funded by the Velux Foundation, SFI intends to contribute to the currently very small, but growing field, of research on elderly immigrants in Western Europe. The project, which will run 2013 – 2015, is a collaboration between SFI and the University of Copenhagen and is headed by SFI senior researcher Anika Liversage. Participants are senior researcher at SFI, Vibeke Jakobsen; professor of psychology at Copenhagen University, Gretty Mirdal, and her assistant Fatma Kücükyildiz. The two latter have Turkish backgrounds, and are thus fluent in Turkish, a language which Anika Liversage also speaks. Fatma Kücükyildiz also speaks Kurdish, and the combined language proficiency of the research group is central for the study, as many of the first-generation immigrants have limited knowledge of the Danish language, and may further lose some of their Danish proficiency in old age.

Methodologically, the study will combine four separate data sources. These sources are 1) register data with all old immigrants from Turkey in Denmark; 2) new semi-structured interviews with approximately 40 Turkish immigrants around the age of 70 years; 3) comparative data from the Danish ‘Elderly Survey’, and 4) a data-base containing interviews with Turkish first-generation immigrant women, interviewed three times in the course of three decades.

First, Danish register data will provide detailed information on the whole group. Here, the researchers will pay specific attention to Turkish immigrants’ financial situation as their unskilled backgrounds and the limited number of years where women in particular have been in the labour market, may result in poor living conditions in old age. Second, these register data will be used to sample respondents for semi-structured interviews. The sample of around 40 interviews will include immigrants who live alone, who live with a spouse, and who live in an extended family. Thus the interviews will shed more light on the roles of family network in old age, including how and when extended families may provide care for the elderly in the same way as in the country of origin. Third, to enable comparison with the majority population, the study will draw on a sample from the existing Danish elderly survey (made with a representative sample of the Danish population), which matches the Turkish immigrants regarding e.g. their low level of education. Thus the study will be able to provide a better understanding of similarities and differences of growing old, when belonging to an immigrant group as compared to being part of the majority.

The study’s last data source consists of a large body of interviews, made by Gretty Mirdal and Fatma Kücükyildiz over more than 30 years. The first round of these interviews consisted of over 80 interviews, and was made around 1980 with first-generation Turkish immigrant women in their thirties. Some of these women were re-interviewed around 2000 and again in 2010, when the women had entered their sixties. In the last round, interviews were also made with some of their adult daughters. This unique data material – all typed up in Turkish – will enable the research group to make longitudinal analyses of growing old in a new country.

Throughout, the study will establish links with other relevant studies in neighbouring countries. Links have already been formed with a recently initiated study of elderly Turkish immigrants living in London. The study will result in a number of scientific articles, as well as in a Danish language book. 

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