Report Round Table Discussion: ‘The social position of migrants and ethnic minorities’

On the 11th of October we exchanged views with some prominent researchers within the field of aging on the social position of ethnic minorities, in particular with regard to successful aging. We have summarized the three issues that were discussed. For the full report, please send an email to Marianne Jacobs (m.t.jacobs@vu.nl).

Issue 1: Defining successful aging (in migrant groups)

Three domains are core to most countries; the physical, social and mental domain. It would be useful to find out why people do well on those aspects. But it is important to regard how people translate these aspects into their own culture and we should adjust measurement instruments accordingly. The discussion about a definition might not be most relevant, though. We might rather have to focus on underlying processes that can explain differences in successful ageing between migrant and non-migrant populations, as well as acknowledge the heterogeneity within these groups.

Issue 2: The large heterogeneity of migrant groups

We cannot work with sole categories of for instance ethnicity, because then we will miss important variations within migrant groups. Also, we should avoid looking solely for linear relationships in our data. Furthermore, first and second generation migrants might use different reference groups to rate their success, either the native (first generation) or host country (second generation).

Issue 3: Other factors than Socio-Economic Status that may be important for successful aging

Discrimination and trust. Research shows that people from ethnic minorities seek professional help relatively late in the health process; problems are kept within the family. They also prefer to go to the hospital in their country of origin, which is used as reference. Migrants feel they are not heard, partly because of language problems. This causes distrust and feelings of discrimination.

With the current cut-backs on health care budgets, long-term care provision will also remain longer within the informal sector, keeping professional care at a distance. At the same time, there will be fewer children to provide this care. It may be questioned why family should have to care for the elderly. Elderly across cultures do not want to be a burden for their children. We don’t want the current generation of informal caregivers to become the next health problem. We should rethink these developments both for majorities and minorities.

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