“The number of elderly migrants in the Nordic countries will only increase in the coming years. And all our research shows that, statistically speaking, this is a group both financially poorer and in poorer health than their ethnically Danish peers. It isn’t a “golfing-and-cruises” sort of old age, these people can look forward to.”
Senior researcher at SFI, Anika Liversage, was one of the people behind this year’s conference in the Nordic Migration Research network. Organised by researchers from Aalborg, Copenhagen and Roskilde universities, along with SFI and the NMR network, the conference brought together some 250 migration researchers, primarily from the Nordic countries. A total of 40 workshops were held – one of them on elderly migrants in the Nordic countries.
“Very few researchers work with ageing in relation to migration, so it was very gratifying to bring people together at the workshop for mutual inspiration. And I believe this field will grow in the coming years – for obvious demographic reasons, not to mention a growing political focus.”
Negotiating roles in old age
The workshop was chaired by Anika Liversage, who herself is currently involved in a research project on first-generation Turkish women in Denmark, and their pathways into old age.
“These women followed their labour-migrant husbands to Denmark three or four decades ago. Most of them don’t have an education and only very limited experience in the Danish labour market, so their Danish language skills and knowledge of the Danish system are equally limited,” explained Anika Liversage at the workshop.
Poor health, gendered expectations, and family dynamics between an older migrant generation and a younger generation, raised in Denmark, are all recurring themes in the interviews.
“We see that some women are strained by the role as a main care taker at a time in their life when they themselves are in poor health – while others have successfully held on to strong positions as mothers and mothers-in-law and so can delegate the work, so to speak. In many cases, women have daughters-in-law who came to Denmark after marriage. Such daughters-in-law may take on the domestic labour in accordance with traditional Turkish norms,” says Anika Liversage. In other cases, the adult daughters, and also both sons and grandchildren help out.
Health in the welfare society
Deteriorating health and the strategies for dealing with it were dominant themes in the workshop. Other presentations included a project on chronically ill Bosnian migrants in Denmark, who re-migrate to Bosnia (by Line Neerup Handlos from the University of Copenhagen), and a project on colliding notions of ageing and health in a municipal project aimed at Turkish immigrants (by Nanna Hilm from University of Copenhagen).
The focus on health is natural, given the Nordic context of the projects, says Anika Liversage:
“All the Nordic countries have very extensive welfare states, and on the whole, elderly migrants are markedly poorer and more ill than the average Nordic senior citizen. So I think that the political and cultural feel in the Nordic countries is that we cannot leave these people isolated and left to their own, limited, resources – we must try to meet their needs, and obviously, that requires research”.